Scam artists rely on both the best and worst of human nature as they try to squeeze money out of their unsuspecting targets.
Sometimes, they take advantage of our desire for a quick score, some sort of get-rich-quick scheme. Here's the spoiler alert: You won't get rich through any of these scams. In fact, chances are pretty good that you're going to lose some of your hard-earned cash.
Those scams are bad. But they're not as bad as those schemes that take advantage of our desire to help people in need. And every time a disaster like Harvey slams into the United States, one inevitable result is that scam artists start to crawl out of the woodwork in search of a quick buck or two. It probably goes without saying that these scam artists have no intention of designating any of their ill-gotten gains to those people whose homes and lives have been shattered by the storm.
There are ways to get around these scam artists. First, if you want to donate, do so through a legitimate organization. A little bit of research now could save you a lot of heartache later. Here are some tips about how to do that:
• Start by checking out the program's website. Make sure you're familiar with what it does — and, just as important, what it doesn't do.
• Make sure any site that solicits cash donations is secure. One way is to look at the address of the organization's website. The address for a secure site will start with the prefix "https"; the "s" stands for "secure," but you probably already figured that out.
• Check out how much of every dollar donated actually goes to the disaster relief effort. Programs take a percentage of donations for administrative fees, but some take more than others.
• Be skeptical of emails or social media posts asking for donations. Do not respond to an unsolicited email. Likewise (and this is important), do not click on any links or open attachments from an unsolicited email.
• As always, trust your common sense: If an organization's claims seem just too good to be true, they probably are.
Remember that telephone scam artists are trained to keep you on the line: If you've already donated to the cause, or plan to do so, and you're increasingly uncomfortable with the tenor of the phone call (these calls often ask you to buy a money card and read the numbers on the card to them), just hang up and report the call to your local law enforcement agency.
A couple of related points are worth making:
• Do not donate unsolicited goods, such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, medicine, or perishable foodstuffs now. What happens with these donations is that agencies on the ground in the affected area must redirect staff resources away from urgently needed services just to deal with the donations.
• And don't decide to just head on down to Texas on your own to help out; you're likely to end up needing to be rescued yourself, and that's not the kind of help Texas needs right now. The American Red Cross runs frequent training sessions for people who want to volunteer on the site of a disaster; check those out first. (And don't forget that volunteers are needed to help communities in Oregon affected by wildfire.) More information about these training sessions and a schedule can be found on the Red Cross website, www.redcross.org.
The impulse to help is a worthy one, but make sure you're actually going to be of help — and be cautious of those who want to use your generous and compassionate heart to make a quick buck for themselves.