In the wake of a late-winter tornado outbreak that pounded seven states, the Federal Trade Commission reminds consumers that scams often follow disasters. The nation's consumer protection agency warns people about urgent appeals for charitable donations, and cautions residents in stricken areas about fraudulent home repair offers.
If you are asked to make a charitable donation to help people in disaster-affected areas, consider these tips to giving wisely:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
- Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who he or she works for, and what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don't get a clear answer — or if you don't like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
- Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never send cash: you can't be sure the organization will receive your donation, and you won't have a record for tax purposes.
- Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
Fraudsters target disaster-affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners' insurance settlements and potential financial relief from the federal government. Home and business owners who need to hire a contractor should:
- Ask for copies of the contractor's general liability and worker's compensation insurance.
- Check the contractor's identification and references.
- Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.
- Deal with reputable people in their communities.
- Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.