Government and watchdog groups are warning those New Yorkers itching to help with Hurricane Sandy relief to be careful when they decide how and where to give.
The U.S. Attorney's Eastern District of New York Office, which covers Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, told Metro they "want to give people a heads up so the public is aware that there are people out there who are going to try to pull off scams and frauds."
These schemes can be common in the aftermath of natural disasters.
"We didn't have a lot happening after Irene that we noticed, but there was a huge amount of activity after 9/11," Luana Lewis at the Better Business Bureau told Metro, noting that it's common for new organizations to be founded after major crises, "usually to address needs that folks feel aren't being addressed swiftly enough in their community."
The state Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney's Eastern District Office and the Better Business Bureau all told Metro they have not yet received any complaints of attempted scams.
"We don't know of any specifics at this point, but we hope to have compiled a list later this week," reported Michelle Hook at the Attorney General's Office.
Department of Justice officials warned the public to use caution in clicking links or opening images in emails that could contain viruses, and advised that "most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com."
Scambook, an online company that helps victims of fraud, also has tips for people who are compelled to help Sandy victims.
Scambook's Miranda Perry said one key sign an organization might be a scam is if they don't have a website or if the website is poorly constructed with improper grammar.
"Any time you're directly solicited is one of the big red flags," Scambook's Director of Marketing, Kase Chong said. "If someone does contact you, the best way to tell is to hang up and call back and see if you get someone on the phone."
Chong suggested the Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, an organization started by Governor Chris Christie's wife, Mary Pat Christie.
"If it has ties to the government, at least you know it's legitimate," Chong said.
How to spot a scam
- Do your research: Scambook and the Better Business Bureau both cull information on thousands of charities. They also recommend sites like ny.give.org and charitynavigator.org.
- Avoid cash donations, and don't give personal or financial information to individuals soliciting contributions. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity.
- Ask a lot of questions. "If they can't tell you about the organization, that's a red flag," Scambook's Miranda Perry advised.
- Don't be pressured into making quick donations: "Reputable charities do not use coercive tactics," officials from the Department of Justice said.