West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is urging consumers to be on guard against impostors calling to solicit monetary donations to aid those affected by the deadly wildfires on Maui.
The death toll as of Wednesday morning was at least 106, and more than 1,000 remain missing; the wildfires destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina. Hawaii’s governor warned that a new storm could complicate the search and recovery.
Sensing an opportunity, scammers will be in full force preying on people’s giving hearts and taking advantage of the organizations that have been set up to provide relief to victims.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this catastrophic event,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Many are expected to respond with generosity and kindness but unfortunately, there will be those who would take advantage of people’s willingness to give. I encourage those who wish to give to the relief effort to do so, but give wisely so that your generosity helps those in need.”
According to the FBI, charity/disaster fraud schemes seek donations that do little or no work – instead, the money goes to the fake charity’s creator. While these scams can happen at any time, they are especially prevalent after high-profile disasters.
Those who want to give to a charity or organization should confirm it is registered with the proper state government agency. If an organization is registered in West Virginia, people can access that information through the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
Consumers also can research charities online via www.charitynavigator.org or www.guidestar.org.
Additional tips to keep in mind when giving to disaster relief organizations:
• Only give to established charities or groups whose work you know and trust.
• Never feel pressured to donate immediately.
• Be suspicious of charities that ask for donations in cash, gift cards or via wire transfer.
• Consider paying by credit card, which is the safest option for security and tax purposes.
• Ask how much of an individual donation directly supports the relief effort.
• Never rely on a group’s sympathetic sounding name or its similarity to a well-known, reputable entity.
• Be wary of unsolicited calls that thank you for donations that you do not recall making.
• Verify any local chapter is authorized to solicit funds on behalf of its parent organization.
• Go directly to a charity or organization’s website instead of clicking on a link to the desired group.
• Any online contribution website should start with https://. The “s” verifies a secure connection, making it less likely for personal information to be stolen.
• Be wary of any charity refusing to detail its mission, use of donations or proof of tax deductibility.
• Keep records, including a letter confirming the charitable status of the organization, for contributions in excess of $250.
Any West Virginian solicited to donate to a charity they think may be fraudulent can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808, or file a complaint online at www.ago.wv.gov.