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Color of Money: Don't be fooled by Hurricane Harvey flood scams

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- With every natural disaster come the scams.

After Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction in Southeast Texas, naturally people want to help. Americans are extremely generous when there's a devastating event, and criminals know exactly how to take advantage of a crisis.

Just three months after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the Northeast in 2012, the Red Cross had received more than $254 million in donations and pledges. Even more money poured in later.

Now tens of thousands of people have already been displaced by floodwaters from Harvey. Their needs will be great. But the responsible thing to do when giving is to figure out how best to contribute. This means doing some homework to make sure your money goes where you expect and is put to the best use.

For those of you who want to help victims of Harvey, here are four tips on how to donate wisely from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group.

-- Investigate before you donate. The FTC (ftc.gov) has put out a blog post with tips for donating safely along with links to charity watchdog groups. It's called: Wise Giving in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey.

-- Consider charities close to the storm. If you're skeptical of large-scale charitable groups, give to local nonprofits. Charity Navigator suggested the following organizations: Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, Houston Humane Society or San Antonio Humane Society.

Make sure the charity has the ability to take action. "Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly," says a warning from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

As you watch media reports and see local churches or community centers opening their doors to victims, reach out to the organizations to see what they may need. But please call first before sending any money or items, because you want to be sure they can handle what you want to send.

-- Stay away from the middleman. It's my personal charitable giving rule to cut out any middlemen. I'm not a fan of giving through a company getting paid to raise funds for a charity. Often much of your money goes to the professional fundraiser.

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