Can you identify a charity scam?
(Photo: Pixabay)

It takes a special kind of awful person to use a tragedy or disaster to prey on the emotions and goodwill of potential Good Samaritans. But here we are.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a storm that dropped an unprecedented amount of rain on the Gulf, flooded whole cities, and displaced tens of thousands of people, con artists may look to use the situation to get fat on your generosity.

Military families are no strangers to pitching in to help others. . . or being the targets of scams. Here are a few tips to help you discern real need and charities from the fakes.

Don’t give in

Scams are often high-pressure situations that rely on a lot of emotional pleas. Step back for a moment. If it’s a real charity, you do not have to give this minute. The efforts to help the Gulf Coast after Harvey will go on for years, as they have for Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. You’ll be able to contact them at a later date, drive a donation to a collection center, or give money online.

Do your research

If you’ve never heard of a charity before, it’s okay to do research before you direct funds there. Google the name and add “complaints” or “scams” to the search string to see if any red flags come up. Look up the name of the charity through the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

Keep the receipts

You should be able to get a receipt from any charity you donate to. If they won’t issue one immediately, that’s a problem. One of the best ways to do this is by writing a check so that you have a record of the donation. If things sound fishy, keep a paper trail, or better yet, donate to an organization that you know well.

Watch out for risky collection methods

Phone calls and door-to-door solicitations are common ways groups generate donations. . . but they’re also easy methods for con artists. Ask for ID, require receipts, do not give out information like Social Security numbers or credit card numbers, or allow solicitors into your home. Never wire money to a “charity.” And always listen to your gut, especially if you think something feels off.

Is anything safe?

There are many worth nonprofits that need help to serve the people of Texas. Here are a few lists of credible charities and what they need:

By J.G. Noll