Oklahoma tornado relief draws donations, brings on scams

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SARASOTA - The images of devastation in Oklahoma inspire an outpouring of help for victims of the tornado. But, sickening as it may sound, scammers wait to prey on that generosity.  Oklahoma's Attorney General has already had to warn people, in his state and even here on the Suncoast, to protect themselves as they try to help others.

“Donations are critical,” says Bryan Pope, General Manager of the Salvation Army in Sarasota. Cash helps the most, because it's faster, easier and cheaper for relief workers to buy supplies like water in a neighboring town than it is to put it on a truck here and drive it up there.

Even as disasters draw donations, they also attract those who take advantage of donors' good will. “Some people look at this as an opportunity to steal,” Pope says.

Almost immediately after the storm strikes, as soon as recovery efforts ramp, so do the plans of scammers. “Every time there's one of these things, they immediately start plotting how they're going to go about attacking it,” says Sarasota Police Economic Crimes Detective Jack Carter.

Social media has given them new ways to spread fake charities, but they still try to catch you directly. “They grab you on the phone,” he says, “and they pull at your heartstrings to make a contribution.” That's a giveaway. Scammers call. Real charities ask you to call them, or donate through their web sites.  

“The Salvation Army does not call,” Pope says. It will air public service announcements soliciting donations, “but we will not call you at home.”

The best way to help, Pope and Carter both say, is to donate to a name you know – like the Salvation Army or the Red Cross. The Better Business Bureau has a website – www.give.org – where people can check the charity they're considering.

www.SalvationArmyUSA.org

www.SalvationArmySarasota.org

www.RedCross.org

(Note: The links are for reference, and do not constitute an ABC7 endorsement.)