On Saturday, May 14, a white gunman in military gear attacked shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people and injuring three others. Officials are investigating the shooting as a racially motivated hate crime.
After the shooting, “how to help” and “help buffalo” were trending on Google search. Several public donation pages were also set up, with the goal of helping the victims’ families. On the GoFundMe website, there is a centralized database of donation pages that have been vetted by the “trust and safety specialists” at the company.
As of May 17, there were seven GoFundMe pages that had been verified by the site. Collectively, the donation pages surpassed $194,000.
Despite the good intentions of many, the New York attorney general still issued a warning for individuals to be wary of some charity pages that might actually be scams.
“In the wake of tragedies, like the horrific shooting in Buffalo, scammers often take advantage of acts of kindness for personal gain,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a press release.
Here are some tips to VERIFY donation pages and avoid charity fraud scams.
1. Do your research to VERIFY the charity is legitimate
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are organizations that can help you research charities:
A release from the New York attorney general’s office said when researching, look into newly formed organizations carefully.
“Often, in the aftermath of tragedies, new organizations emerge to meet community needs. While most of these organizations are well-intentioned, and some may provide innovative forms of assistance, some may not have the experience or infrastructure to follow through on their promises, and some may turn out to be scams,” the release said.
2. Be wary of donation pages soliciting through email
The New York attorney general’s warning said, “If you receive a solicitation by email, find out who is behind that email address. Contact the charity whose name is in the email or visit its website to find out if the email is really from the charity. Do not give personal information or your credit card number in response to an email solicitation unless you have checked out the charity.”
Fight Cybercrime, an organization that provides cybercrime and scam awareness, says valid charity organizations will not include an attachment in their email communications.
The FBI offers this advice: Don't click links or open email attachments from someone you don't know, manually type out links instead of clicking on them and don’t provide any personal information.
3. VERIFY the method of payment and don’t pay cash
According to the FBI, if a charity or organization asks you to donate through cash, gift card, virtual currency, or wire transfer, it's probably a scam.
The FTC adds:
- To be safer, pay by credit card or check.
It’s a good practice to keep a record of all donations. Review your statements closely to make sure you’re only charged the amount you agreed to donate – and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation. Keeping track also helps determine if your donation would be tax deductible.
4. Pay attention to the red flags
According to Fight Cybercrime, individuals should be suspicious of anyone trying to contact you claiming to be a victim, or trying to rush you into making a donation.
“Scammers often make lots of vague and sentimental claims but give no specifics,” Fight Cybercrime says.
Some other telltale signs, according to the FTC, include:
- Some scammers try to trick you into paying them by thanking you for a donation that you never made.
- Scammers can change caller ID to make a call look like it’s from a local area code.
- Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. This is one reason it pays to do some research before giving.
- Bogus organizations may claim that your donation is tax-deductible when it is not.
- Guaranteeing sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a donation is not only a scam, it’s illegal.
If you do fall victim to a scam, Fight Cybercrime says you should cease all contact with the suspicious organization or individual, contact your bank immediately, run a credit check to make sure your credit history wasn’t tampered with and save all information and correspondence in case you need to file a formal criminal report.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.