Helping Harvey Victims Without Getting Scammed

Hurricane Harvey has wrought more devastation than any natural disaster in the U.S. over the last decade. The death count is still climbing, thousands of people have lost their homes, and the estimated cost of relief is currently topping $10 billion.
The news reports recounting the stories of Houston residents whose lives have been upturned by the storm can really tug at your heart. In fact, you may be moved enough to open your purse strings and donate whatever you can to help the victims of this horrific hurricane.
Unfortunately, though, that’s exactly what many scammers are counting on. When emotions run high, they know they can count on your caution to be thrown to the winds and your wallet to be thrown wide open.
If you’d love to assist with relief funds, but want to make sure your money is really being used for helping victims – and not padding the pockets of scammers – use this handy guide as your reference. Now you can give with confidence!
1.) Avoid Harvey Scams

Opportunists using this crisis to con you out of your money are great in number, but with just a bit of awareness and precaution, you can avoid all scammers.
First, make sure your computer’s security systems are updated to the most recent versions, as scammers will first prey on unprotected devices.
Second, as always, never share your personal information with an unverified source.
There are hundreds of “must-watch” hurricane Harvey videos circulating the web, each with attention-grabbing titles and thousands of views. Many of these, though, will ask you to input your email username and password before you can watch them. Doing so can infect your device with malware and give scammers an open door into your computer.
Similarly, do not click on any links or download anything from suspicious sources. Remember, the urgent “Donate Now” ads on your social media pages might look convincing, but may actually be the work of a sophisticated scammer.
Finally, it’s best not to donate over the phone because it’s difficult to verify a charity’s authenticity that way.
2.) Verify a charity’s validity

While Harvey scammers abound, that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of sincere people who are genuinely concerned for victims and are collecting donations to help them out.
If you come across a charity you’d like to donate to, you can easily determine its validity. Check out the charity on the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. Be sure the charity’s name matches the listed charity exactly. Alternatively, contact the organization yourself.

You can also ask a representative to share details about the charity with you. If they seem reluctant to answer questions or they brush off your concerns, that’s a red flag – proceed with caution!

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also recommends checking with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for a list of legitimate disaster-relief organizations based in Texas.

3.) Reach out on your own

Perhaps the best way to ensure your money is really going toward its intended targets is to contact the charities yourself. This way, you can be sure you’ve reached the actual organization and not an impersonator.

There are many legitimate organizations accepting donations on behalf of Harvey victims. Here are a few to get you started:

  • The American Red Cross. You can donate on their website, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS ((1-800-733-2767) or you can text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10.
  • AmeriCares is accepting medicine and supplies for survivors.
  • The Salvation Army. You can donate online, by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769) or by texting STORM to 51555.
  • The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center has reported a critical shortage. You can donate by calling (210) 731-5590 or by visiting their website for more information.
  • Carter Blood Care is an organization that assists hospitals in North, Central and East Texas. To donate, call (877) 571-1000 or text DONATE4LIFE to 444-999.
  • The Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio is asking for diapers and wipes. These baby supplies can be personally dropped off or mailed to 5415 Bandera Road, Suite 504, San Antonio, TX 78238.
  • To help animals suffering from the disaster, you can visit the Houston Humane Society or the San Antonio Humane Society. For long-distance assistance, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has set up an animal emergency response hotline, at (713) 861-3010. They are also accepting donations on their website.
  • The United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund is helping victims with urgent needs as well as long-term services, like minor home repair. You can visit their website to donate or text UWFLOOD to 41444.
  • If you’d like to donate blood to those in need, you can contact the following organizations: AABB: (301) 907-6977, American Red Cross: 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), Armed Services Blood Program: (703) 681-5979.

Times of crisis bring out the best and the worst in humanity. Don’t let crooks destroy your goodwill. Keep your guard up and research every charity before donating to steer clear of scammers. Doing so will help you have confidence that your charitable giving is being put to proper good use.

Your Turn: Have you helped out the hurricane Harvey victims? Share your charity of choice with us in the comments!