How to avoid scams while helping victims of Hurricane Florence

Friday, September 21, 2018
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Want to help after a disaster? Follow these tips to maximize your impact.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Hurricane Florence brought devastating floods and to the Carolinas and killed at least 37, leaving people needing to rebuild.

Related: Relief money available for 18 NC counties, applications now open

If you would like to help those affected by the storm, here's what you should keep in mind.

Check the charity

Before you donate to a charity, make sure you know where your aid is going.

The Center for International Disaster Information has compiled a list of charities that are sending help, and it recommends checking with a charity monitoring organization like GiveWell, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or the Better Business Bureau before donating.

Make sure your donation is secure by going through an organization's official website or sending a check in the mail. Charity Navigator said you should never donate over the phone, email or unknown social media pages, as these are easier for scammers to target.

Give cash, not supplies

Most charities prefer monetary donations, especially if you plan to donate internationally. These are more flexible and cause less of a strain on the charity, allowing them to help more, the CIDI explained.

"Unlike material donations, cash involves no transportation costs, shipping delays, or customs fees. It also enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid by spending less time managing goods," the organization explained on its website.

Consider volunteering

The Red Cross has put out a call for volunteers to help the affected areas in the Carolinas.

"Candidates with the greatest likelihood of being chosen have fluency in the language of the disaster-affected area, prior relief experience, and expertise in technical fields such as medicine, communications, logistics, water/sanitation, and engineering," the CIDI explained.

Know that blood is needed

If you can't donate money or travel to affected areas, consider donating blood. The Red Cross told ABC11 they had to cancel blood drives because of the storm, adding to an already urgent need for blood and platelets.

The organization encourages everyone in parts of the country that aren't affected, especially people who have type O blood, to make an appointment.

Housing inspectors claiming to represent FEMA

Be cautious if somebody asks for your nine-digit registration number. FEMA inspectors will never ask for this information. They already have it in their records.

FEMA inspectors never require banking or other personal information such as a Social Security number.

Ask the inspectors to show you their identification badge. Federal employees and contractors always wear an official government or government contractor badge to identify themselves.

Call FEMA at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585) if you are suspicious of someone who says they're a housing inspector sent by FEMA.

Fake offers of local or federal aid

Don't trust someone who asks for money. Federal and local disaster workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications.

Don't believe anyone who promises a disaster grant and asks for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.

Report suspected fraud to the NC Consumer Protection Division at 877-5-NO SCAM (919-716-0058 for Spanish speakers).

Avoiding fraudulent building contractors

Use licensed or verified local contractors backed by reliable references.

To find licensed certified contractors check the North Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. The department offers tips on disaster repair here.

Don't pay more than half the costs of repairs in advance.

Demand that contractors detail the job to be done with guarantees in writing.

If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

Trusted Information Sources

A rumor control page has been set up to dispel false information about Hurricane Florence:

Call 2-1-1 or text "FLORENCE" to 898211 for questions about Hurricane Florence.

Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions. Tips may be reported 24/7 to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721. Or, email