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FTC: Beware of hurricane relief telemarketing scams

Matt Schulz

As sure as there will be hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico each year, there will also be lowlifes who will try to illegally profit from the storm’s carnage. The aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike is no different, and the government has issued a warning to Americans to be wary of potential telemarketing scams.

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission advised that people should be wary of bogus fundraising operations that are trying to steal consumers’ credit card information over the phone in the name of helping out hurricane victims. It’s hardly the only hurricane-related trickery that’s going on — there are reports of potential gasoline price gouging in a few states, including North Carolina — but it is one of the most easily avoidable.

If you are called and asked to give money to a charity for hurricane relief, the FTC recommends you do the following:

  • Ask for the name of the charity if the caller doesn’t provide it immediately.
  • Ask the caller how much of your donation will go to support the cause.
  • Call the charity yourself to confirm whether the solicitation is legitimate.
  • Refuse to provide credit card or bank information until you’re certain that the solicitation is legitimate.
  • Request a receipt that states the amount of the contribution and the fact that it is tax deductible.
  • Avoid giving cash donations.

In short, be careful and make darn sure that the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are — pretty good advice for dealing with any telemarketer, whether they want money for a political campaign or hurricane relief funds or a local police department fundraiser.

Ultimately, however, if you want to help hurricane victims, the best thing to do might be to say, “Hey, that’s a great idea” and hang up the phone on the telemarketer. Then, you can initiate a call to the American Red Cross (1-800-REDCROSS) or Salvation Army (1-800-SAL-ARMY) or make a donation online at American.RedCross.org or SalvationArmyUSA.org without worry about getting ripped off.

After all, too many people need too much help for you to risk that money getting in the wrong hands.

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