How to Avoid Scams when Donating Money to Maui Wildfire Victims

Disasters like Maui’s Lahaina Fire, Olinda Fire, and Kuna Fire tend to bring out the best in human nature. Many people want to do what they can to help people, pets and wildlife — especially in a devastated area that holds fond areas for people from all over the world. Unfortunately, deadly wildfires and other tragedies can also bring out the worst in human nature. Con artists can be remarkably convincing,  but knowing a few tricks  of how to avoid scams can go a long way toward making sure your donations go to the people who need them most.

The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office has issued a statement urging people to be on the lookout for false charities and other deceptive people who want to take advantage of your kindness.

In a press release, Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said, “I know that the people of Hawaii will come to the aid of our families, neighbors and communities. We are already seeing various fundraising efforts being promoted on social media platforms and online. In moments of crisis, we all must be extra vigilant against bad actors who try to take advantage of people’s goodwill.”

How to Avoid Charity Scams

Avoiding scammers is easier than you may think, if you know the basics:

Verify the Charity

You can always check the charity’s official website or contact the charity directly to verify their status. If someone is fundraising on behalf of a charity you are familiar with, the best practice is to donate directly to that charity.
Any charity that solicits donation in Hawaii must be registered with the Department of the Attorney General. Click here to see if a charity is registered. There are also a number of independent online sources you can use to verify that a charity is legitimate, including the following:

Click here for a list of charities that OnderLaw has vetted.

So how can you tell if a charity is legitimate? Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What is the charity’s mission statement? What does the charity do?Who do they serve?
  2. What do the charity’s financial statements look like? How much money does the charity raise? How much of that money is spent on programs?
  3. Who are the charity’s board of directors? Who are the people who make decisions about the charity? Do they have experience in the nonprofit sector?
  4. What is the charity’s reputation? What do other people say about the charity? Have there been any complaints or scandals?

If you are still unsure about a charity, you can always contact them directly. Ask them questions about their work and how your donation will be used.

Know Scam Tactics

  • Rushing You into Donating. Research the charity before you donate. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision.
  • Asking you to use cash or gift card. Nearly all legitimate charities will have gone through the verification steps needed to accept credit card and check donations.
  • Using sound-alike names that resemble those of real charities. For example, a New York investigation uncovered one group’s fake charity scam used 76 sound-alike names, including American Cancer Society for Children, Inc., which is not related to American Cancer Society. You can check these organizations by digging into their registrations, just like any other charities.
  • Making vague and heart-wrenching claims without telling you where your money will go. Everyone loves a good story, but when those stories of suffering aren’t backed up with tangible solutions, you may be dealing with a scam.

The Red Flags of Scamming for Donations

Here are some red flags that may indicate a charity scam:

  • The charity is asking for donations in cash or gift cards.
  • The charity is not registered with the state.
  • The charity does not have a website or social media presence.
  • The charity is making unrealistic promises about how your donation will be used.
  • The charity is pressuring you to donate immediately.

Other Things to Know About Donating Safely

Donate directly to the charity. If you are donating through a crowdfunding platform, make sure to choose a platform that verifies the charities it lists. You can also donate directly to the charity’s website.

Keep your contact information private. When donating, do not give out your personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number.

Report scams. If you think you have been scammed, report it to the charity, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and your state’s attorney general.

Final Word

Don’t let scammers keep you from helping. There is great need. There are also many good people out there who are doing important work to help those who are struggling.

Our OnderLaw is proud to represent victims of the Maui fires who have lost loved ones or who have faced significant loss of homes or businesses. Working together, we are making a difference.