This editorial was first published in the Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.

 

We know flooding. Maybe not Carolina flooding brought on by the relentless rain dumped by Hurricane Florence, but flooding nonetheless. Many residents affected by the July 1, 2017, local storm are feeling the pain of Florence’s victims and likely might want to assist in some way.

If possible, we all should.

Florence is gone, but the storm cut a swath of death and destruction. The number of victims is rising every day. The number of closed and impassable roads climbed to 1,500 in North Carolina, the U.S. Transportation Department said. Interstates 40 and 95, two of the state’s main transportation arteries, are only partially open. Many communities are isolated. The death toll currently stands at 37 - 27 in North Carolina, 8 in South Carolina and 2 in Virginia; around 343,000 people have no electricity, and many schools remain shuttered. Millions of lives have been disrupted. (Note: All figures are as of this editorial's original Sept. 20 posting.)

And it’s not over yet.

“The rivers are still rising,” said Gov. Roy Cooper said. “This is a monumental disaster for North Carolina.”

You might know someone in harm’s way. Unless you’ve been through such a horrendous experience, we can’t quite imagine what it’s like.

Sadly, at a time when people are very vulnerable, the scammers are slithering around like snakes looking for high ground.

Watch out for them.

New York state Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood earlier this week reminded New Yorkers looking to contribute to the flood relief to consider consulting her office’s charitable giving tips before making a donation. Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year, reports indicated that some scammers were using links to purported charitable organizations as a phishing attempt to steal personal information from those seeking to make a donation, or to set up fake GoFundMe campaigns to solicit money.

Underwood offered the following tips for those seeking to contribute to relief efforts:

• Make sure you are familiar with the organization, its mission, and its effectiveness. Always ask for information in writing, and be wary if an organization won’t provide it. Check the Attorney General’s website — www.charitiesnys.com — to ensure that the organization is registered with the Charities Bureau.

• Find out from the charity what it will do with your money. Review financial reports for information about how it spends donations. If you have been contacted by a telemarketer, review Pennies for Charity, the New York Attorney General’s annual report of fundraising campaigns in New York, to see how much is spent on fundraising and how much has been kept by the charity. Ask specifically how the charity plans to use your donation. Ask if the charity already has worked in the affected local area or has relationships with any local relief organizations. Also, ask what the charity plans to do with any excess donations. Avoid charities that make emotional appeals but are vague in answering questions.

• Donate to organizations you are familiar with or that have experience assisting in disaster relief. Get information about charities that pop up solely in response to a disaster or those with unfamiliar names.

• Be cautious with telephone solicitations. Telephone calls asking for donations to charity are often made by a professional fundraiser who is required to register with the Charities Bureau. Ask whether the telemarketer is registered, how much of your donation will go to charity, and how much the telemarketer is being paid. Many telemarketers receive most of the money they raise. Giving directly to a charity avoids those costs. Remember — you can always hang up.

• Check before you text a contribution. Check the charity’s website or call the charity to confirm it has authorized contributions to be made via text message. Remember that donations via text messaging may not reach the charity until after your phone bill is paid. It may be faster to contribute directly to the charity.

• Check before donating to an online site. Make sure your contribution to campaigns set up by individuals on sites such as GoFundMe or CrowdRise will go to charity and not to the person raising the funds. Don’t contribute unless you know the person.

• Don’t respond to unsolicited spam emails. These formats are usually not associated with legitimate charities. Check the Department of Homeland Security’s tips, such as Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks, that are posted here.

• Give your contribution by credit card or a check made payable to the charity. Never give cash.

• Avoid giving credit card or personal information over the phone or by text message. In all cases, make sure you are familiar with the organization and check to see that the fundraising campaign is legitimate before donating.

If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work or that a scam is taking place, do not hesitate to contact the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau at charities.complaints@ag.ny.gov or 212-416-8401. The following additional websites also contain helpful information to evaluate charities:

CharityWatch – charitywatch.org

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance – bbb.org

GuideStar – guidestar.org

Charity Navigator – charitynavigator.org

There are many legitimate groups and organizations helping victims of Hurricane Florence, and donating to one of them is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, there’s a crook on every corner. Don’t get ripped off. When in doubt, check it out.