Brace Yourself – Hurricanes Stir Up A Storm Of Disastrous Scams
We’ve just entered the hurricane season.
In this part of the country, everyone stays on high alert listening for news of storms forming in the Gulf and the Atlantic and pray for an uneventful season. One thing many people forget, particularly those not in the storm’s path, is that scam artists and con artists extraordinaire can do as much damage as the storms they follow preying on people’s compassion.
Scammers Prey On Compassion
While those in the storm’s path lose their belongings, homes and sometimes even their lives, the scam artists take money from those in distant parts of the country. They go to great lengths to make folks think the money they are donating is going to storm victims, while pocketing every penny.
For instance, check out this story in which, “Investigators found 5,000 questionable Katrina-related websites after that storm, and not just from the area of the disaster, but nationwide. While Katrina was still slamming into Louisiana, a man in Florida launched “AirKatrina.com” claiming he was a private pilot performing rescues and needed money for fuel. He wrote that he saw people huddled on roofs and that “I will hear these screams for the rest of my life.” He was nowhere near Louisiana, but he raised $40,000 in two days, authorities said.
Bogus Concerts Bogus Charities
So be forewarned as we move deeper into hurricane season. Learn to identify scam charities, phishing emails and other forms of communications soliciting funds for hurricane victims.
The scammers get real creative, so do your due diligence before giving. This foxnews.com report captures it well. “From bogus benefit concerts and counterfeit charities to phishing scams, crooks looking to make a quick buck have more and more frequently taken advantage of people’s charity in times of need. And the 2017 hurricane season – the fifth most active since records began in 1851 – has been a particularly ripe time for scam artists.”
In addition, the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud said they received more than 5,000 related to hurricane Irma. Officials in Florida, ravaged by Hurricane Irma in early September, reported more than 8,000 instances of scams and price gouging during and after the storm. And, The Associated Press reported that a newly created Florida company that won more than $30 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs never delivered those urgently needed supplies.
Avoid Becoming A Hurricane Victim With IRS Tips
If you donate to a bogus charity, you will not be able to deduct that gift from your taxes, so be especially cautious so that you know where your dollars are going. The IRS has a list of what to look for to help you identify scams and they provide a search feature for legitimate charities.
The IRS says that fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics such as the following:
- Some impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers.
- Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information.
- They even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
- Others operate bogus charities and solicit money or financial information by telephone or email.
Should there be hurricanes this season – please no – and you would like to donate to legitimate charities, the IRS website, IRS.gov, has a search feature, Tax Exempt Organization Search, that helps users find or verify qualified charities. Donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
If you want a tax deduction be sure to contribute by check or credit card. Whether you want a deduction or not, never give or send cash. Also, do not give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who solicits a contribution.