NEW YORK - New York Attorney General Letitia James is warning people to be aware of fundraising scams in the wake of Sunday’s deadly apartment fire in the Bronx borough that left 17 people dead, including eight children.
A malfunctioning electric space heater apparently started the fire in the 19-story building, fire officials said. The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke poured through the apartment’s open door and turned stairwells into dark, ash-choked death traps. The stairs were the only method of escape in a tower too tall for fire escapes.
"In moments of tragedy, New Yorkers are quick to offer support, donations, and strength to those in need, but too often, individuals take advantage of that kindness," James said in a statement. "As we look to aid those who were impacted by the horrific fire in the Bronx yesterday, we must be vigilant and ensure that victims receive each and every donation that is intended for them. My heart is with the Bronx today as we mourn, pray, and heal as one community."
James outlined several tips for people to consider before offering a donation:
Check Before Giving
Donate to charities you are familiar with and carefully review information about the charity before you give. Most charities are required to register and file financial reports with the Attorney General's Charities Bureau if they solicit contributions from New Yorkers. Check our website, charitiesnys.com, for financial reports of charities or ask the charity directly for its reports.
Ask How Your Donation Will Be Used
Find out how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and individuals your donation will support. Find out more than just the cause. Find out what organization or entity will receive the money and what programs it conducts or what services it provides.
Look Into Newly Formed Organizations Carefully
Often, in the aftermath of tragedies, new organizations emerge to meet community needs. While most of these organizations are well-intentioned, and some may provide innovative forms of assistance, some may not have the experience or infrastructure to follow through on their promises, and some may turn out to be scams.
Solicited by Email? Find Out Who is Soliciting
If you receive a solicitation by email, find out who is behind that email address. Contact the charity whose name is in the email or visit its website to find out if the email is really from the charity. Do not give personal information or your credit card number in response to an email solicitation unless you have checked out the charity.
Be Careful When Giving Through Social Media or Other Fundraising Sites
Before giving through these social media or fundraising sites, research the identity of the organizer of the fundraising efforts and ask the same questions you would of a charity. Online platforms that host groups and individuals soliciting for causes may not thoroughly vet those who use their service. Donors should only give to campaigns conducted by people whom they know.
Donors also should take a close look at the site’s FAQs and Terms and Conditions to see what fees will be charged. Also, don’t assume that charities recommended on social media sites, blogs, or other websites have already been vetted. Research the charity yourself to confirm that the charity is aware of the campaign and has given its approved permission for the use of its name or logo. If available, sign up for updates from the campaign organizer to stay informed on how contributions to the campaign are being spent.
Exercise Caution Before You Text A Contribution
Check the charity’s website or call the charity to confirm it has authorized contributions to be made via text message.
Don't Give Cash
Give directly to the charity either by check made payable to the organization or through the charity's website.
Be Careful About Personal Information
Be cautious before giving credit card or personal information over the phone, by text message or via the Internet. In all cases, make sure you are familiar with the organization to which you give such information and check to see that the fundraising campaign is legitimate.
Report Suspicious Organizations
If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work, or that a fundraising or charitable scam is taking place, please contact the Charities Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FBI offers tips to avoid fundraising scams
The FBI is also offering additional tips to avoid charitable scams:
- Be aware of organizations with copycat names or names similar to reputable organizations.
- Be wary of new organizations that claim to aid victims of recent high-profile disasters.
- Do your research. Use the Federal Trade Commission's resources to examine the track record of a charity.
- Practice good cyber hygiene: Don't click links or open email attachments from someone you don't know. Manually type out links instead of clicking on them. Don't provide any personal information in response to an email, robocall, or robotext. Check the website's address—most legitimate charity organization websites use .org, not .com.
- Don't click links or open email attachments from someone you don't know.
- Manually type out links instead of clicking on them.
- Don't provide any personal information in response to an email, robocall, or robotext.
- Check the website's address—most legitimate charity organization websites use .org, not .com.
- After a natural disaster or other emergency, carefully vet any contractors before hiring them to work on your home or business.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.