Want to Donate to Maui Wildfire Victims? Be Wary of Charity Scammers
It’s been nearly two weeks since the horrific news of the Hawaiian wildfires hit the news outlets and social media. The fires have been declared among the deadliest in the United States, leaving behind death and destruction.
The good news is that many Americans are willing to open their checkbooks and wallets to help those in need. The not-so-good information is that bad actors and charity scammers come out of the woodwork after natural disasters. Because of this, understanding signs of potential charity fraud is essential to ensure that donations reach the victims for whom they’re intended.
The Current Situation
On Aug. 7-8, 2023, a combination of drought-driven conditions and powerful winds from Hurricane Dora helped generate a destructive wildfire on the Hawaiian islands of Maui and The Big Island. Much of the news has centered on the vast and deadly blaze raging through West Maui, destroying the historic town of Lahaina.
As of this writing, thousands of residential and commercial buildings have been destroyed. The death toll stands above 110, with 38% of the impact zone searched. That number is expected to increase. As of Aug. 16, officials reported that the Lahaina wildfire burned an estimated 2,170 acres and was 85% contained. Additionally, the Upcountry/Kula fire burned an estimated 678 acres and was 75% contained, while the Pulehu/Kihei fire in South Maui was 100% contained.
Though the Hawaiian wildfires sparked less than two weeks ago, several state attorney generals and the Better Business Bureau warn the public about non-legitimate “charities” that are more interested in fleecing donors than helping victims.
Pressure. A non-profit that is insistent that the donor “give right now!” needs to be considered suspicious. Reputable charities will not pressure donors for immediate funds. Instead, they welcome donations at any time.
False donation claims. Some scammers go so far as to tell a likely donor that they’ve given to a false “charity” in the past. Given the vast number of charities with similar names, that donor might believe the claim.
Donation request types. Legitimate charities accept checks, credit cards and debit cards. If a “non-profit” takes donations only through wire transfers or gift cards, steer clear.
Emotional appeals and vague descriptions. All charities rely on emotional appeals to tug on heartstrings (and hopefully open coffers). But be suspicious of an organization that provides the appeal but a vague description of what the charity does and the population it serves.
Vetting a legitimate charity does require some research through the following methods:
Verification of legitimacy through an official website
While bad actors are an unfortunate fact of life following disasters, plenty of reputable, caring organizations are also out there. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency suggests donations to the Maui Strong Fund and the American Red Cross of Hawaii. Other respected and reputable charities working with Hawaiian wildfire victims include:
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