Though Thursday’s forecasts place the path of Hurricane Florence well south of Carroll County and Maryland, the chaos following a storm can spawn unexpected dangers in the form of scams.
Audrey Cimino, executive director at the Community Foundation of Carroll County, said she is confident Carroll residents will be eager to help with relief efforts if they are needed as hurricane season continues.
“I know they will leap. If there’s a problem, Carroll County people are going to want to help with it. … We just need to be prudent [with] the help that we give,” she said.
“The best advice we can give people is to wait until the authorities in that area determine what the needs are.”
She recommended that they reach out to well-established charities like the American Red Cross or Catholic Charities USA, or donate specifically to the community foundation serving affected areas.
And financial donations are the most effective because materials get lost in the shuffle when aid organizations are overwhelmed.
Cpl. Jonathan Light of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said via email: “Almost all scams create a sense of urgency — making it sound as though you need to take action immediately — and we would encourage anyone who wants to donate to any charity to gather information about the charity, and do some research to ensure that it is legitimate before sending any money.”
He directed users to the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
The FTC recommends that before donors support an organization, they search online with the organization’s name and the words “review,” “scam” and “complaint.”
Sites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar evaluate charities for legitimacy.
Donors should be particularly cautious of those asking for donations through cash, gift card or wire transfer, according to the site. Credit cards and checks are the easiest to keep record of.
In a release Wednesday, the FTC wrote, “Because scammers are hoping that generous people like you, in your eagerness to help, won’t do your homework so they can steal that money. The best way to avoid this and other kinds of charity fraud is to go online and do your research to make sure your money goes to a reputable organization.”
Scammers may solicit donations via phone, email or in person.
FEMA reminds to ask for a charity’s exact name, street address, phone number and web address before contacting a charity directly to confirm the identity of the person asking for donations.
Carroll County Breaking News
Legitimate charities should be willing to give receipts including their name, street address, phone number and web address (if applicable).
Some go even further, targeting hurricane victims by making false promises to repair damaged property or clean up debris.
FEMA and other federal workers do not ask for money and always carry identification.
Those who suspect that they have been the victim of a scam should collect as much information as they can on the organization they donated to.
Scams can be reported to www.ftc.gov/complaint.
In Maryland, the agencies in charge of regulating charities are the Maryland Secretary of State’s Charitable Organization Division, reachable at 410-974-5534 and email@example.com, and the Maryland Office of the Attorney General at 410-260-3855 and 410-974-5527.