Scammers are already targeting residents’ sympathies over fires in Maui, AG says

Maui, Hawaii, following the most intense wildfires in the United States in the last 100 years. Screenshot via YouTube

Just days after the fires decimated Maui, scammers are already going after people to steal money (masked as charitable donations) based on the tragedy and the New Jersey Attorney General is pleading with folks to be aware they could easily fall prey to one or more of these predators.

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin urges consumers to “Investigate Before You Donate” and avoid fraudulent charitable solicitations for donations to help those affected by the fires.

“Natural disasters such as the one in Hawaii bring out the best in people, as we seek to help others in their time of need. But for the con artist, this tragedy is just another means to defraud the public,” Platkin said. “Donors need to be wary of potential scams that divert relief funds into the pockets of fraudsters.”

“New Jerseyans looking to help should seek out reputable and legitimate charities,” Cari Fais, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in conjunction with the AG’s office. “Residents should always take the necessary steps to make sure their money is actually going to help those in need.”

The DCA offers the following tips for New Jerseyans who wish to donate for victims of the Hawaii fires:

  • Give to charities you know and trust. Never give to a charity you know nothing about. If a charity is new, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t donate —instead, learn as much as possible before you decide to entrust the organization with your money.
  • Learn about the charity’s stated mission, and find out how, exactly, it plans to use your money. Ask for literature and read it. Honest charities encourage you to ask questions.
  • Contact Consumer Affairs’ Charities Hotline in Jersey at (973) 504-6215 or visit the Search For A Charity page to learn about specific charities and confirm that they are registered with the division, as required by law.
  • The division’s website will also show the charity’s most recently reviewed financial information — including the amount of the charity’s annual expenses that went to actual charitable programs, as opposed to fundraising or management expenses.
  • Don’t be fooled by a convincing name or professional-looking website. Dishonest charities may use impressive names or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Don’t succumb to pressure. Don’t let yourself be pressured into giving, and don’t feel you have to contribute on the spot. No legitimate organization will ever expect you to contribute immediately, even if you have given in the past.
  • Ask if the charity uses a professional fundraiser and, if so, what percentage of your contribution will actually go toward relief efforts and how much will be used to pay the fundraiser.
  • Beware of unsolicited and phony email notices that claim to be from a charity asking for your credit card information. This scam is called “phishing” and could be used by thieves to commit identity theft. If the charity is unfamiliar to you, check whether the group is registered with Consumer Affairs’ Charities Section. If the organization is registered or you know the organization, call it directly to find out if the email notice is valid.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.