While neither the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance nor the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team released specific details on possible scams, but both issued general warnings for consumers. US-CERT -- which keeps tabs on computer and online crime -- said in its alert that it would release more information as it became available.The federal US-CERT issued an alert this week to watch out for potential e-mail scams and phishing attacks linked to the Mississippi flooding disaster. The agency reminded consumers to ignore unsolicited web links or attachments and to make sure their antivirus software was up to date.
The Wise Giving Alliance said to keep the following in mind before making a donation:
- Check out the charity by reviewing its website or investigate it through another group to help determine if it's legitimate.
- Identify what stage of relief the charity will provide. Flood relief has three basic stages -- emergency response, disaster relief and recovery -- and each stage has its own needs. The charity should be able to tell you which stage it gears itself toward.
- Determine if the charity is giving direct aide or raising money for other groups.
- Be wary of any charity that claims 100% of donations go to relief victims. While this sounds good, the reality is, every group has administrative and fundraising costs.
- Verify the charity is registered to ask for donations within your state. Groups usually have to register with the state's attorney general's office or secretary of state.
A con artist posing as a charity isn't a new scheme: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said there were a total of 3,314 charitable solicitation complaints nationwide in 2010. This puts the Mississippi flood relief scam at No. 27 on the top 30 list of complaint categories for the year as complied by the Consumer Sentinel Network, a database that includes not only complaints to the FTC but also complaints filed with other agencies and groups including the BBB, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the National Fraud Information Center.
"Despite long experience in giving for major natural disasters, and with the desire to quickly help those in need, Americans sometimes forget to heed advice that's relevant to all charitable giving," Art Taylor, BBB Wise Giving Alliance president and CEO, said in a statement.
For more tips on avoiding charity scams, read this previous article from WalletPop.