How to Avoid Charity Scams When Donating to Hurricane Ian Relief

Before you open up your wallet to donate to Hurricane Ian relief, make sure you avoid scams by doing your research.

The destruction left by Hurricane Ian has many people looking for ways to help, but state officials are warning you to be on the lookout for scammers.

“During times of disaster, scammers often take advantage of generous Floridians who want to help,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

There are steps you can take to make sure your donation doesn’t make it into the wrong hands.

“You have to do a little bit of research before taking out your wallet and donating to all these different causes that are going on,” said Cinthya Lavin with the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida

Lavin says it starts with a little research.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, websites like give.org, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Candid let you search charities to find out details about charity organizations. You can find out which ones are accredited, secure, and legitimate.

The website Give.org lets you see how a charity uses the money they receive.

When you search the American Red Cross, for example, you can see how much the organization spends on administrative fees and fundraising efforts. These two categories totaled 8% of the organization’s total income in 2020.

According to the website, a charity should spend the majority of its total income on program expenses and no more than 35% on fundraising.

But if you are donating on social media or on a crowdfunding website, you will need to dig deeper. You can start by checking what site the link goes to and who the crowdfunding organizer is.

“Make sure you know the person you are donating to, even if it is a friend of a friend,” Lavin said.

You can also research how the organizer is connected to the cause they are raising money for. You also want to verify what the crowdfunding platform’s rules and fraud safeguards are.

“A lot of scammers create dummy websites that look very similar to organizations we have all come to know,” Lavin said.

The last step in protecting your donation is choosing the right payment method. Try to avoid donating using a wire transfer, gift card, or peer-to-peer payment platform.

Experts also suggest using a credit card to make donations for extra protection.  

“Use your credit card to be able to use that donation, even if it is used as a tax write-off, because if you are using peer-to-peer apps and you don’t know where that money is going,” Lavin said.

If donations are tax deductible, the organization will be listed on the IRS’s Tax Exempt organization search site.

Donations to individuals and PAC’s are not tax deductible.