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Want to help Harvey victims? Here’s how to avoid bogus charities

Watch Coast Guard helicopters rescue Harvey victims from rapidly rising floodwaters

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston airlifted victims of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to safety on Sunday, August 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. People and their pets were hoisted up to a helicopter.
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U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston airlifted victims of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to safety on Sunday, August 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. People and their pets were hoisted up to a helicopter.

As devastation from Tropical Storm Harvey dominates the news, calls for donations to aid Texas survivors are going out across the nation. But how can you tell which are legitimate?

Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has lingered just off the Texas coast dropping heavy rain as a tropical storm, sent devastating floods pouring into Houston on Sunday. The rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.

The Federal Trade Commission, among others, has plenty of tips to help make sure your money goes to the right cause. Here are five signs of possible charity scams:

1. Goes by a name almost identical to a well-known charity. Countless charities have similar names. Some are inadvertant because they’re collecting for the same cause. Others, however, are intentional because they’re hoping to be confused with a better-known, more reputable organization. Don’t fall for it.

2. Pressures you for an immediate donation. You need time to properly research a new charity before making a donation. Scammers, of course, don’t want you to do that. For starters, find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. And check if the charity’s trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or GuideStar. A simple online search also may turn up past complaints or scam reports.

3. Refuses to provide detailed information. Ask for specifics on the charity’s mission, costs and how the donation will be used. If you’re dealing with a paid fundraiser, ask for the name of the charity they represent, the percentage of your donation that will go to that charity, how much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating and how much will go to the fundraiser. Any refusal to provide this kind of basic information should set off alarm bells.

4. Refuses to provide a phone number. Before you donate, call the organization first on your own to find out if it’s aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. It’s a perfectly normal step for any potential donor, so if the person resists providing you with a contact number, you should be concerned.

5. Asks you to wire money or send cash. Never do either. Also, don’t provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or other personal information to any charity until you’ve thoroughly checked things out. And don’t agree to give your donation to a courier or overnight delivery service.

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