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Disaster Relief and Charity Scams

Scam artists see disaster tragedies as opportunities to get rich quick.  They know people are willing to offer financial help for disaster relief.  Unfortunately, this also appeals to scammers who will use disaster relief generosity to capitalize on a donor’s goodwill.

Whether it be an earthquake in Haiti, a hurricane in Florida, or a flood in your local community, scammers will exploit the sympathy of donors by offering heart-wrenching stories or claiming to be a familiar charitable organization to steal donations or to obtain consumers' sensitive financial information.  See Attorney General After the Disaster Scams consumer alert.  

Scammers will pose as agents of legitimate and familiar charities or create their own charity name.  They may claim to be conducting medical research or raising funds for disaster relief.  They will play on emotions by claiming to help children who are ill or have been forced from their home due to a disaster.  

Tips for Donating Safely

You can avoid disaster relief and charity scams and still make a positive contribution to relief funds and rebuilding projects if you act wisely before you donate.  Here are some tips for donating safely:

  • Be cautious of email, text, and phone requests for donations by unfamiliar organizations - make donations to established organizations with a strong track record of organizing and providing disaster relief.
  • Avoid social media efforts to fundraise for victims of natural disasters.
  • Research the charity to see if the organization is registered to solicit in Michigan.  
  • Don’t be pressured into donating. Legitimate charities allow you time to think about how much — and when — you choose to donate.
  • Be suspicious of organizations that insist you have made a previous donation – especially if you don't remember doing so. 
  • Avoid door-to-door solicitors or offers from charities to stop by a consumer’s home to pick up a check. 
  • Be wary of charities that ask for alternate forms of payment. Legitimate charities never ask you to give by wire transfer, gift card, or other non-traditional methods.
  • Initiate the donation yourself, rather than responding to solicitations. 
  • If you wish to donate online, go directly to the charity’s website rather than clicking a link to an unknown site.

Before giving, check out the charity at the Michigan Attorney General’s Search for Charities and Fundraisers site to know if it is registered to solicit in Michigan and to see important aspects of its financial filings, including how much of any money you give will be spent on the charity’s overhead expenses rather than going to support the charitable purpose, such as disaster-relief efforts.  If you have a question regarding an organization not listed in the Attorney General’s database, you may contact the Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section by email or by phone at 517-335-7575. You can also search for organizations at independent websites such as National Center for Charitable Statistics and GuideStar.

Make the Actual Donation Securely

  • Don’t freely hand over money.
  • Write your donation check to the organization - never to an individual; and write out the name - don’t use initials.
  • Ask for a receipt showing how much you donated, the date, its intended use, and its status as tax deductible.
  • To avoid identity theft and fraud, use caution before giving credit card numbers over the phone or online. If you are concerned, ask the organization how it will use and safeguard your information. For more information, see Attorney General's Consumer Alert on Identity Theft
  • When donating online, check to see that you'll be using a secure web page for financial transactions - one starting with an "https". Even secure sites can be "spoofed" by scammers - see Attorney General's Consumer Alert on "Phishing Scams." 

BEWARE - Warning Signs of Fraud

  • Bogus bills - You receive phony invoices for pledges you’ve never made.
  • Evasive, vague, or unresponsive answers - Telemarketers that don’t answer your questions.
  • Words in a charity's name - Scammers may use a name very similar to that of a well-known charity. 
  • Adamant telemarketers - Aggressive telemarketers may pressure you to make an immediate donation.
  • Refusal to send information - A charity or telemarketer that won’t send you written material regarding the charity’s activities is not worth supporting.
  • Emotional appeals - Don’t be guilted into an immediate donation.

For more advice and tips for donors, visit the Attorney General's Charities home page.

For More Tips and Information Read These Related Consumer Alerts

Report Fraud

If you have been the victim of a disaster-related scam, or if you would like to file a general consumer complaint, please contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
517-335-7599
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form