I-Team: Want to help with Harvey? Keep your guard up

It's almost impossible not to want to help when you see the pictures streaming out of Texas and, increasingly now, Louisiana. It is - by almost every measure - a historic disaster.

You might say, it's a Texas-size catastrophe. And there's every reason to think the necessary response will need to be just as massive.

But as you open your hearts, closets, pantries, and wallets - watch out! It's unquestionable that when the going gets tough, the scammers get going.

Already, we're hearing reports of people out to make a quick buck off those suffering along the Gulf Coast.


Here's our effort to steer you, and your goodwill, straight:

Do your research (We can't stress this one enough...)

Find charities that are doing work you want to support and use sites like the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance,Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar to check them out.

Give to established charities

Because it can be nearly impossible to track your donation once it's out of your hands, experts suggest giving to established charities with experience in disaster assistance. Here's a list of BBB "Accredited Charities" that are raising funds for Hurricane Harvey relief assistance:
  • American Red Cross
  • AmeriCares
  • Church World Service
  • Direct Relief
  • GlobalGiving Foundation
  • Houston Food Bank
  • Houston Humane Society
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • Islamic Relief USA
  • MAP International
  • Operation USA
  • Salvation Army

Ask questions

If you want to donate through one of the hundreds of other efforts currently underway, we suggest asking a few questions first:

  • Does the charity have an "on the ground" presence in the impacted areas?
  • How does the charity plan to get donations where they need to go?
  • How experienced is the group in disaster relief assistance?
  • Does the charity have a website? If so, does the website clearly describe what the organization can do to address immediate needs?
  • Is the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups (in some cases, you may want to consider avoiding the middleman)?

Watch out for unsolicited emails, text messages, and social networking posts asking you to donate

The messages may include links to copycat web sites designed to look like a legitimate charity. Experts say scammers are already making dummy sites that look remarkably similar to those of charitable organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Check the web address at the top of the screen to confirm it's authentic. If you're not sure, try to navigate to the same site through the organization's main page.

Be wary of telemarketers

It's worth thinking twice before giving to telemarketers who call on behalf of nonprofits since a large chunk may go to the for-profit telemarketer.

Watch out for social media sympathy

Experts say scammers often turn to social media to tug at people's emotions and prey on our kinder instincts. Before you make a donation based on a post, make sure to confirm its authenticity.

Understand crowdfunding before you use it

Often, crowdfunding sites will do very little to vet people who ask for help after a disaster making it hard to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, seek out people who you know personally or through friends.

Consider donating through your company or a business you frequent.

As of noon on Thursday, corporate donations to the Harvey relief effort have exceeded $66.5 million. 38 companies have pledged $1 million or more and many have matching programs. You can find a running list of which companies have ongoing donation efforts here.

If you think you've been contacted by a charity scammer, you can file a complaint or contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM (566-7226)

Also, as you're figuring out how to get your goodwill to where it's needed most, remember that right now relief agencies don't want clothes or food (in-kind donations), they want money.

Until emergency and relief crews have a better idea of the extent of the damage and key needs, financial donations will go the farthest and allow the most flexibility.

Also, don't send cash. Experts suggest making donations by credit card or check to help track the expense if necessary.
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