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How to avoid donation scams during Hurricane Florence

The scams come in many forms, over the phone, through email, on social media and on various fundraising sites.

MINNEAPOLIS-- When disaster strikes, you can always count on two things, the selfless stepping in to help and the scammers out to make a quick buck.

"We should all be on high alert right now. Scams are extremely common in times of natural disaster,” Minnesota Better Business Bureau spokesperson Lisa Jemtrud says.

The scams come in many forms, over the phone, through email, on social media and on various fundraising sites.

“We tend to see the complaints coming in from senior citizens the most,” Jemtrud says.

The BBB says the biggest red flag you should be on the lookout for is a sense of urgency.

“They will talk fast and tell you to give now, we need it right now,” Jemtrud says.

“Legitimate organizations are going to accept your donation whenever you’re ready to give it.”

Disaster scams are so prevalent that in 2005 the United States Justice Department opened the National Center for Disaster Fraud.

The organization was created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina after officials encountered an unprecedented number of scams.

Over the last 13 years the agency has received more than 92,000 complaints involving fake charities soliciting donations, fake companies offering to help victims and incidents of price gouging.

Most recently the agency saw a startling increase in scams after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last Fall.

According to the agency’s website they received more than 3,000 complaints within the first few days of the storm.

“It happens more frequently than we’d like,” Sara Nason says.

Nason works with the non-profit search tool Charity Navigator, which maintains a database of more than 9,000 charities.

Nason encourages people to search any charities they encounter before they donate.

Another way to check if a charity is legit is to ask them for their Employer Identification Number (EIN).

“You can search that number online and if the organization doesn’t pop up then it’s not a real organization,” Nason explains.

To get ahead of this latest storm the group created a special page on its website just for Hurricane Florence.

The page features a list of vetted charities that are helping victims during the storm.

"It's definitely going to be this weekend and the coming days when we see these scams starting to pop up," Nason says. “Everyone should be on the lookout.”

Experts say scammers have also been known to take pictures from sites like GoFundMe and CrowdRise to create fake fundraisers.

To learn more about Charity Investigator click here.