Recovering from Hurricane Irene – How to Avoid Charity Scams

For those who are not in the affected areas, to watch the raw video footage of flooding in Vermont or see staggering photos (here and here) of Irene’s damage across the entire Eastern coastline is heart-wrenching. Though it will be weeks before the full damage is assessed, Hurricane Irene is already one of the most destructive disasters in U.S. history.

Hurricane Irene the 8th-most destructive storm in the U.S. in 30 years.
According to the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog (an engrossing blog if you like stats and numbers as related to social issues):

Loss estimates for Irene are going to take some time to calculate — but the early figures are quite bad. Estimates in an ABC News article are of property losses of between $7 billion and $13 billion — and the rule of thumb is that total economic losses are equal to about twice property losses, which would imply a total price-tag of between $14 billion and $26 billion.

Using the low end of that range — $14 billion in total losses — would rank Irene as the 8th-most destructive storm since 1980, adjusted for inflation and the growth in wealth and population.

Those numbers are nearly incomprehensible. The recovery road will be a tremendous investment of time, money and individual, community and government involvement. Donations from individuals will also play a leading role in relief efforts.

Compared to other types of individual giving, it’s natural disasters that influence people to dig deep in their pockets to support communities affected by the disaster. And there’s no shortage of websites and organizations that are accepting donations to help relief and recovery efforts.

If you’re donating to Hurricane Irene relief efforts, keep these things in mind.
Forbes and the Better Business Bureau both warn about charity scams in the wake of the storm.  Here are some helpful tips for avoiding scams—whether donating to Hurricane Irene or other disaster relief efforts:

  • Make contributions directly to organizations you’re familiar with, rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf
  • Find out if the charity has a presence in the affected area
  • Validate the legitimacy of the organization by directly accessing the recognized charity or aid organization’s website rather than following other links to the site
  • Be cautious opening unsolicited emails that claim to have photo or video attached, as these files could contain computer viruses
  • If you think you may be the victim of fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud
  • Use trusted sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to confirm the legitimacy and actual existence of the charities and non-profits you’re interested in supporting

If you’re interested in donating to Irene relief efforts, the Huffington Post compiled a list of ways to help.

Image via NASA Goddard Photo and Video: Hurricane Irene over the East Coast of the United States on August 26, 2011, taken from the International Space Station under Creative Commons license