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Scammers take advantage of natural disasters. Here's how to make sure your money does good

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - Sep. 5, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Between a spate of local wildfires and Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the East Coast, there’s no shortage of people and organizations who need help — and, thankfully, no shortage of Utahns willing to help them.

But with every disaster, unfortunately, comes scammers looking to line their own pockets with dollars intended for charity. Sometimes it’s hard to know who to trust, but there are several organizations dedicated to separating the good guys from the bad actors in crisis situations.

Charity Watch, GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau are just three such organizations with searchable directories of charities. Some websites will provide information about giving for a specific event, like this Charity Watch page about Hurricane Dorian that advises donors to “be on guard for a surge of solicitations related to any highly publicized crisis.”

“There will be fraudulent charity solicitations, some involving websites and email links attempting to steal your credit card information for identity theft or insert malware on your computer,” the organization said.

It also said there will be many “fake victims” on social media and scammers often copy or approximate the names of major charities to solicit donations. Charity Watch advised consumers donate only to major organizations with track records they trust.

All Hands and Hearts, Catholic Relief Services and the United Methodist Committee on Relief are three charities with A-plus Charity Watch ratings the page mentions.

Jane Rupp, president of the Utah Better Business Bureau, said donors can search her organization’s site,, for reports on local and national charities. “If it’s in Utah, they can also contact Consumer Protection — that way they’ll know if it’s a registered charity to actually do business in Utah.”

Unfortunately, usually when there’s a disaster, the scam artists come out.

As the leader of an organization that, in part, helps keep track of scams and fraud, Rupp said she’s seen many ways to exploit a crisis. “Unfortunately, usually when there’s a disaster, the scam artists come out,” Rupp said. “Some of the ways they do that is through Facebook. It’s an emotional appeal to try and get you to donate. You think you’re actually donating to someone who’s going to help those people on the ground who actually need the help, and it’s a scam. They’re just taking the money, or they’re giving a very small percentage.”

Rupp also said donors should be wary of crowdfunding websites, where individuals can solicit donations for themselves or on someone’s behalf because such sites typically do “very little vetting” of posts.

It only takes a couple minutes to check out a charity.

She’s heard reports of people giving money to a real person only to realize that that person had set up a different page entirely, and the one they gave to was a copycat.

“It only takes a couple minutes to check out a charity,” Rupp said, “and make sure your money’s actually going to go where you think it’s going to go.”

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