Criminals want to take advantage of your generosity during Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Posted at 8:52 AM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-29 10:36:13-04

The devastation in Texas after Hurricane Harvey will be felt for a very long time. And despite people's pain, scammers are trying to get in on the relief efforts.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal government formed the Disaster Fraud Task Force aimed at finding and prosecuting criminals taking advantage of Katrina and other disasters.

Sue McConnell with the Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland knows the effects of a disaster.

"It brings out the side of scammers who know that in times like this we are vulnerable,” McConnell told us.

Just 6 years after the task force was formed, it had already prosecuted more than 1,400 people across the country.

Just do a Google search and you'll find how prevalent fraud has been and Harvey, unfortunately, will be another target.

Watch out for social media ads that can link you to scam websites. You're better off just typing in the sites on your own rather than clicking on links.

There will be plenty of phishing schemes in your email, too.

"You can always Google the email address and see if others have posted warnings about this email,” suggested McConnell.

Don't fall for copy-cats. Scammers will come up with a name that's very similar or in the URL the name could be one letter off. "We do see a lot of imposter websites crop up after these events," said McConnell.

Don't feel pressured to give immediately. A charity will be happy to take your donation today, tomorrow, or next week. "A legitimate charity won't need your money today,” McConnell pointed out.

If so-called charities ask you to donate via gift cards, stay away! "iTunes gift cards, Amazon gift cards or something like that, that's typically a red flag of a con,” McConnell told us.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office also suggests that you be careful of someone asking for donations but giving no details on how the money will be used, if they ask for a check to be made out to a person, not an organization, and if they offer to pick up donations immediately versus in the mail or online.

If you want to report disaster fraud: Department of Justice.

To check on legitimate charities:, Guide Star, Charity Navigator