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Scam of the Week: Fake charities aim at those who help hurricane victims

If there’s tragedy, a scam is sure to follow.

And sure enough, the warnings are pouring in regarding bogus Hurricane Harvey charity efforts.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Better Business Bureau are warning kind-hearted folks who want to help to do so only through recognized charitable groups or individuals.

“While there has been an enormous wave of support across the country for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, people should be aware of criminals who look to take advantage of this generosity by impersonating charities to get money or private information from well-meaning taxpayers,” the IRS said last week.

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And the Better Business Bureau warns that it is seeing crowdfunding appeals “of a dubious nature.”

Keep these tips in mind as you open your heart to hurricane victims, according to the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance:

• Verify whether a relief organization is on the up-and-up by going to Give.org. There, you can find free information about a charity and whether it meets BBB standards.

• For crowdfunding appeals, keep in mind that crowdfunding sites do hardly any vetting when it comes to who can post for assistance, ” and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support.” The BBB suggests giving to people you already know who are seeking help on crowdfunding sites.

• Obvious one: Never give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.

• See if the organization has an on-the-ground presence in flooded areas that needs help. “Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly,” the BBB says. See if the charity’s website is clear about what it can do to address immediate needs.

• Be cautious about giving clothing, food or other in-kind donations. While drives to collect such items aare “well-intentioned,” they aren’t necessarily the quickest way to help people. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. “Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assisstance.”

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When shopping for short-term apartment rentals, beware of a scam that’s making bogus use of Airbnb.

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It involves phony landlords posting photos of very nice (too good to be true) rentals on Craigslist, Apartments.com, or other major rental listing websites, the Better Business Bureau says.

The fake landlord claims to be working overseas – in one version, it’s employment on an off-shore oil rig – and needs someone to rent the home. The story is that because the homeowner is out of reach, Airbnb will be managing the property. This adds an air of legitimacy.

So you contact the landlord, who says he will ask Airbnb to start the rental proces, only… you have to provide contact information, a copy of your ID and passport and a “fully refundable” $500 security deposit.

In some versions of this scam, targets were asked to pay by iTunes gift cards. (Yes, yet another iTunes gift card scam.)

You must take these steps, the landlord says, before an Airbnb agent will be assigned to show you the property.

If you get this far and you do follow the instructions … so what. You will not hear back, and your money will be gone. The worst part: your identity has been stolen.

Here’s how to spot a rental scam, according to the BBB:

• Always pay through the Airbnb website. “If a property is listed through Airbnb, you will never need to pay the landlord directly or through email. And you will never receive a PDF from Airbnb requesting payment,” the BBB says.

• Watch out for deals that sound too good. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam.

• Don’t fall for the overseas landlord story. Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

 


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