In politics, there is a saying that you should never waste a good crisis. This unscrupulous philosophy also applies to scammers.
Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Friday morning, and while Carroll County and Maryland managed to avoid any significant effects of the storm, the Category 1 hurricane did significant damage in a short period of time and continued through Saturday.
Anyone following news of the storm on television or social media has been inundated with images of the heart-breaking destruction. Many people, including several we suspect in Carroll County, will want to do something to help those affected.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of other less savory individuals who will look to take advantage of that heartfelt generosity.
The Federal Trade Commission, warns that scammers count on the eagerness of people wanting to help so that they won't do their homework on a charity before giving.
Doing a little bit of research online before donating to a cause can go a long way to ensure the money you give makes it to reputable organizations that are helping people in need.
The FTC recommends doing a web search for the organization's name and the words "review," "scam" and/or "complaint" before making a donation. Sites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar are also useful to evaluate charities for legitimacy.
If you're still unsure, it may be better to reach out to well-established organizations like the American Red Cross or Catholic Charities USA.
Capt. Paul Supko from the Anne Arundel County fire department shares tips for preparing for a hurricane, stormy weather and flooding. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)
Audrey Cimino, the executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, an umbrella organization for nonprofits operating here, suggests looking up similar foundations that serve affected areas and consider donating directly to them. Local leadership will likely have a better idea of how best to use the funding to help their communities recover.
If you receive a phone call or email asking you to donate immediately, be wary. "Almost all scams create a sense of urgency," said Cpl. Jonathan Light of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.
Another red flag is if the individual or organization is asking for donations through cash, gift cards or wire transfer. Using a check or a credit card is better, because it's easier to keep track of those payments.
Legitimate charities should also be willing to give receipts including their name, street address, phone number and web address.
Capt. Paul Supko from the Anne Arundel County fire department shares tips for dealing with flooding while you're in a vehicle. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)
Finally, in the age of crowdsourcing websites, it's good to double check that a campaign is legitimate. GoFundMe notes that from reading information about a campaign, you should be able to tell how the campaign organizers is related to the intended recipient of donations; the purpose of the campaign and how funds will be used; whether direct friends and family are making donations and leaving supportive comments; and whether the intended recipient is in control of the withdrawals and, if not, is there a clear path for the funds to reach them. If not, message the organizer for more information before donating. If you're still unsure, or think the account might be impersonating someone, report it to the website immediately.
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, then report the scams at 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.
The last thing we want to do is discourage people from donating and helping. Just take a few minutes to do the research before sending a check or clicking submit to ensure your generosity is reaching the right people.