Michelle Singletary: Beware of storm-chasing con artists trying to capitalize on tornado relief efforts

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I can’t help but look at the photos of the once tree-lined neighborhoods, downtowns, schools, churches and businesses that were destroyed by the tornadoes that ravaged several states on Friday night and Saturday morning.

A snapshot of a brown teddy bear sitting among the rubble that was once someone’s Kentucky home makes me cry.

How could photos of areas that appear to have been bombed and of people trying to salvage anything from their demolished homes not inspire you to help with relief efforts to feed and house tornado victims?

Families may not have the financial resources for the funerals of dozens of people who have died.

You feel generous, and that’s a good thing. Your help is needed. But one thing is certain. The crooks will also come to collect your donations.

You will receive a legitimate looking email, text, or call on your social media platform asking you to donate to charities that help residents, workers and employers struggling to recover from tornadoes that turned their lives upside down.

“This is exactly the kind of scam we are worried about,” said Sunita Lough, commissioner of the IRS’s Tax and Government Exempt Entities division. “People will call. Everyone has heard on the news from so many people in need. But if someone calls you, you don’t have to donate right away.

Before writing that check or donating money to a GoFundMe campaign or Cash app, take the time to investigate the charity solicitation. Don’t enrich the crooks who try to capitalize on tornado relief efforts.

Lough was speaking on a press call to promote two things: a special tax provision for charitable donations that ends Dec.31 and an online tool to check if your donation goes to a qualified charity.

“I hate that it’s timely, but it is,” said David L. Thompson, vice president of public policy for the National Council of Nonprofits. “It’s great that the incentive is there now when it’s needed. “

Normally, you cannot take the standard deduction and claim a deduction for your charitable donations. Almost 9 out of 10 taxpayers benefit from the standard deduction, according to the IRS. A temporary change in the law for 2021 tax returns, however, allows individuals to claim a deduction of up to $ 300 for cash contributions made to qualifying charities this year. The maximum deduction is $ 600 for married couples. Cash contributions to qualifying charities under the rule change must be made by year end.

To check the status of a charity on Irs.gov, use the “Find Tax Exempt Organizations” tool.

The Better Business Bureau offers a list of tips on how to give back to tornado relief efforts without getting ripped off:

Be on the lookout for impostors

The crooks will create emails or send text messages that appear to be from legitimate charities. Check the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org before making a contribution. Beware of start-up charities named after the disaster. Organizations this quickly established may not have the experience to provide assistance.

Don’t be in a hurry

The crooks use the urgency of the situation to create scams. But you have enough time to take a break and check out a charity solicitation.

“Legitimate charities are happy to receive your donation tomorrow or next week, even if it is an urgent situation,” said Kelsey O. Coleman, director of communications and public affairs for the Better Business Bureau serving the DC metro area and eastern Pennsylvania.

Beware of calls for crowdfunding

Investigate before giving directly to online campaigns for individuals.

“Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job than others at controlling posts,” Coleman said.

GoFundMe said more than 300 fundraisers have been created on its crowdfunding platform in response to the tornadoes. In 72 hours, more than $ 1.2 million was raised from more than 15,000 donors to help affected families, communities and businesses, according to a spokesperson for GoFundMe.

Immediately after the storms, GoFundMe said it began monitoring its fundraising platform created for families and those affected. The site has created a centralized platform for donors to identify fundraisers that have been verified by the Company’s Trust and Security team. This hub will continue to be updated as new fundraisers are verified, the spokesperson said.

For a fundraiser to be considered verified, the site must identify the organizers, who they are fundraising for, the organizers’ relationship with the recipient of the funds and how the funds will be used. GoFundMe says it also holds all funds until it can confirm the identity of the recipients and they have been authorized to withdraw the funds.

By the way, if a crowdfunding publication claims to be helping a particular person or family, donors in the United States generally cannot qualify for a federal tax deduction, the BBB points out.

Beware of calls recommended by friends

If someone you know forwards an email, you might not question it because it’s from someone you trust. It is a mistake. Affinity fraud is a proven way for crooks to infiltrate a network of friends and family.

It’s easy to get emotional when you see images of devastation and loss of life, but take a break to consider a donation request.

“It’s a devastating situation and the need is urgent, but take some time to think about your gift,” Coleman said. “Give, but give wisely. You want to be punchy but careful.


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