HOUSTON - Seeing the images of the devastation in New Orleans, you may want to donate to help. But scammers seize on disasters to squeeze you out of your money.
Investigators say fraud from Hurricane Katrina totaled $500 million, as scammers immediately began registering fake websites. Here's a look at what to watch for to ensure your money goes where it's really needed.
"After every disaster that happens, unfortunately, the scammers come out of the woodwork," said Leah Napoliello with the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB says when donating money, choose a long-standing organization with experience in disasters.
"One that's been in operation for many years, an organization that knows how to get the items to the people in need in the fastest way possible," said Napoliello.
That means names you know, like the American Red Cross, the United Way, Cajun Navy Relief, or NOLA Ready. You can check out a charity through the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or GuideStar.
Don't respond directly to a solicitation sent over email, text, social media, or a cash app, and never click a link in these messages. They could take you to look-a-like charity website and steal the financial information you enter.
"Don't just give money to someone out of the blue. You want to contact the actual organization's webpage," she explained.
Scammers often pose as people you know on payment apps, such as Venmo, claiming to need money. But once you send it, there's no getting it back. Call them first and send a $1 test.
Donating to charities using a credit card can actually give you some protection.
"If you do accidentally give to a scammer, you can go back to your credit card company and dispute the charges with them," said Napoliello.
A new scam to watch out for is fraudulent QR codes.
"Instead, it could lead you to another site, where they ask for your personal information, your log-in credentials, or could even install malware on your device," she said.
And remember scammers can use crowdfunding sites, such as GoFundMe, pretending to raise money for a person or family in need, but are really stealing your cash.
The Federal Trade Commission has an excellent guide to investigating a charity before and after you donate including tips on how to pay, how to handle donation requests from phone calls or social media and more.
You can report scammers and shady charities to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling 1-866-720-5721.