County Executive warns Mercer residents to avoid disaster-related scams
TRENTON, N.J.—Mercer County residents looking to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastation after making landfall in Texas last weekend, are being warned to beware of phony charities.
Scams are common following storms of this magnitude, said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, because while many people are eager to offer assistance, others will use the disaster to make a quick profit. “Before contributing to a charity that is soliciting donations for victims of Hurricane Harvey, people should investigate whether the charity is in fact legitimate,” he said.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following tips to help consumer protect themselves against scammers.
• Give to charities you know and trust. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. If a charity is new, that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't donate – but learn as much as possible before you decide to entrust the organization with your money. Especially after a natural disaster, many “pop up” charities often adopt names that include the name of the storm and may not have the ability or intention of carrying out the stated charitable mission.
• Learn about the charity's stated mission, and find out how, exactly it plans to use your money. Ask for literature and read it. Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.
• Contact Consumer Affairs' Charities Hotline at 973-504-6215 or www.state.nj.us/lps/ca2/charities/ to learn about specific charities. You can confirm whether a charity is registered or is exempt from registration requirements. (Certain religious or educational organizations, and those that raise less than $10,000 in a fiscal year, are exempt from the registration requirement.)
• Don't be fooled by a convincing name or professional-looking website. Dishonest charities may use impressive names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
• Don't succumb to pressure. Don't let yourself be pressured into giving, and don't feel you have to contribute on the spot. No legitimate organization will expect you to contribute immediately, even if you have given in the past.
• Ask if the charity uses a professional fundraiser and, if so, what percentage of your contribution will actually go toward relief efforts and how much will be used to pay the fundraiser.
• Beware of unsolicited and phony email notices that claim to be from a charity asking for your credit card information. This scam is called “phishing” and could be used by thieves to commit identity theft. If the charity is unfamiliar to you, check whether the group is registered with Consumer Affairs' Charities Registration Section. If the organization is registered or you know the organization, call directly to find out if the email notice is valid.
• Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card, or write a check directly to the charity.
• Do not make checks payable to individuals; make checks payable only to those organizations that you found listed as active in the Division database.
• Be wary of providing personal or financial information, even to charities you've confirmed are legitimate. Limit the information to what is needed to process your donation.
• Social media sites can also perpetuate scams. Do not blindly give via these mediums. As with any charity, investigate the groups behind such pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization.
Consumers are urged to report suspicious solicitations to their local police and to the Mercer County Division of Consumer Affairs at 609-989-6671. To file an online complain, visit www.goo.gl/UPmZQh. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs can be reached at 1-800-242-5846 or by visiting www.njconsumeraffairs.gov.