Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Avoiding Scams while Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Natural disasters tend to bring out the best in most people, but the worst in others. For the past few days, most of us have marveled at the tireless efforts of the rescue workers (many are unpaid volunteers) in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's destruction and flooding in South Texas. We couldn't be prouder of our fellow Texans. We are also deeply appreciative of those from other states sacrificing their time and efforts for their fellow Americans.

Unfortunately, disasters also attract predators who typically exploit others for their own gain. No, I'm not talking about the "mainstream" media. Actually, many reporters did a pretty good job in their coverage, although the usual outlets (CNN, MSNBC etc) attempted to add their typical political spin, however unbelievable they may sound to any thinking person. I'm speaking instead of the charity scam artists, who take advantage of the generous charitable nature of people in order to bilk donors of monetary aid that is intended for the victims. It has been estimated that almost $2 billion dollars went to bogus charities after Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Trade Commission offers the following common sense advice when dealing with Charities:

  • Donate only to charities that you know and trust, and have a proven track record of dealing with disasters. Beware of those who use a very similar names to a well-known reputable charity.
  • Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
  • Avoid those who ask for donations in cash, ask you to wire money, or offer to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • Specify the exact disaster that you would like your donation to go toward. Many charities, the Red Cross in particular, sometimes stockpiles donations during a disaster, then moves a portion to the general fund that goes to pay for expenses such huge salaries, fund raising, advertising etc.
  • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
You can find many more tips at Before Giving to a Charity.

What about the Red Cross?

The Red Cross began as a Christian organization, but sadly has devolved primarily into a very profitable "non-profit" secular agency in order to work more closely with governmental agencies and large corporations that typically will not donate through the much more efficient Christian charitable agencies. I remember a few years ago when a Red Cross office worker was threatened with termination if she didn't remove an ornament from her desk that contained a bible verse.

After Katrina, a deputy marshal was asked to leave a Red Cross shelter because he was praying with stranded refugees. In addition, an Albany, Louisiana church shelter took in a family who stated that they were kicked out a Red Cross shelter because they were reading from their family bible. The Christian shelter workers thought that there must have been a misunderstanding, until three other families later arrived after being booted for the same reason. No one had complained about the prayers or bible readings, but Red Cross representatives defended the decisions with the usual statement that their shelters take in families from diverse backgrounds, and didn't want to offend anyone (except for the Christians that were kicked out to fend for themselves in the extreme weather conditions).

The Red Cross also has a history of mismanagement, and typically sends a much smaller percentage of donations to the actual victims than the various Christian charities. After a year long congressional investigation into Red Cross activities following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a congressional committee headed by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley released a report in June of 2016 showing that, of the $500 million in donations for earthquake relief, almost $125 million was spent on internal expenses. Many investigator's questions went unanswered, and the Red Cross was unable or unwilling to explain where the money went.

The Red Cross typically sends a much smaller percentage of received donations to the victims than Christian charities such as Samaritan's Purse, The Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief , or multiple other fine organizations.

This is not to say that the Red Cross does not provide good humanitarian aid, and we certainly would not group them with any of the scammers or frauds. We are troubled by the anti-Christian bias coming from their top management, but we also personally know of many dedicated Christians who are working very long hours with them at the regional and local levels. We choose to donate through various Christian charities because a larger portion of our donations generally go to the victims, but urge our readers to follow their own conscience regarding these matters.

Finally, we'd like to say "Thanks Again" for all those who are helping in so many ways. We also ask for your continued prayers for both the spiritual and physical needs of the victims and the dedicated workers.

Update: Shortly after posting this, we received info from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that many homeowners and renters are getting robocalls stating that their flood premiums are past due and that, in order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey, the consumers are being told they must submit a payment immediately through various means. DO NOT do this. Contact your insurance agent instead. If you suspect fraud, you can also call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721.