When disasters strike, kind-hearted people often seek to donate some money to relief charities for the communities affected. However, scammers increasingly use disasters as ways to make a quick buck, preying on the sentiments of concerns citizens. Experts and law enforcement officials believe Hurricane Michael, which recently devastated the Florida panhandle and nearby areas, may encourage charity fraud.

Looking for ways to help

Although major events are somewhat rare, relief agencies such as the American Red Cross are always working to help those affected by disasters. Sometimes after a hurricane, flood or other event, new charities are formed to offer specific and targeted assistance to the people affected.

Charities use donations to help the wounded and the physically displaced and to help to repair the destruction caused by the event. Many of these charities will not only accept donations but also will allow you to volunteer to get more up close to these disasters. But, before you cut a check for charity, take a minute to make sure everything is legit.

How to tell if a charity is reputable

Sometimes checking the legitimacy of a charity can be as simple as just searching for it on charity lists or websites like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. In some states, it is mandatory for charities to be registered, so checking with your state officials can be helpful, too.

Contact the National Association of State Charity Officials to learn the contacts for charity oversight in your state. If you find that a charity should be registered but is not, consider choosing a different registered charity to help minimize the possibility of being scammed.

What to do if you feel you have been scammed

Do you believe you have just donated to a fake charity? Don’t lose all hope, as there are steps you can take to potentially get your money¬†back or have it transferred to another charity. If you think that you have just been scammed, report the charity to the FTC (Federal Trade Commision) at ftc.gov/complaint.

Hopefully, in the future, these fake charity scams will be eliminated through increased government action. But, in the meantime, remember to be on guard before donating to a new charity.