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How to avoid Maui fire relief scams

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How to avoid Maui fire relief donation scams


If you want to support wildfire relief for victims in Maui, look carefully before you donate, experts say. That’s because scammers are also making appeals for donations, but are pocketing generous donors’ dollars instead of directing the money to legitimate causes.

The scammers are aiming to divert some of the donations that are pouring into funds dedicated to helping the thousands of wildfire survivors whose homes and businesses were burned to the ground. 

“We want people to know that whenever there is a natural disaster, scammers are quick to follow,” Colleen Tressler of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Consumer and Business Education told CBS News. 

Bad actors are seeking donations through phone calls and direct messages to social media. That’s why it’s important to only contribute through verified organizations. 

How to detect scammers

There are telltale signs that solicitations for donations are coming from bad actors.

“These scammers very often create a sense of urgency and you’re really not thinking as clearly as you would normally,” Tressler said. 

The also try to imitate reputable organizations, she said. “Some of these scammers use very similar sounding names to these organizations, charities that we all know.”

Here are red flags to be alert to:

  • Criminals often seek payment in cash, gift cards, wire transfers or crypto currency. “We really recommend that you pay by credit card, which gives you a lot more consumer protections,” Tressler said.
  • They will mimic the names of reputable organizations. Only donate to charities you trust, and verify the legitimacy of a non-profit through a site like Charity Navigator. “Every dollar that a scammer takes out of a generous person’s pocket means that money isn’t going to the people in need,” Tressler said.

Those who wish to support Maui residents affected by the fires can help by supporting organizations active in relief efforts

The American Red Cross, the Hawai’i Community Foundation, Maui United Way and Maui Food Bank are among them. Other organizations, like the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, are assisting by taking care of pets whose families have been displaced in the fires. 

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