Ocean County Commissioner Vicari Warns Residents Against Donating To Hawaii Fire Victims Scams

As rescue and emergency operations continue in the wake of the deadly wildfires that swept across the Hawaiian island of Maui, Joseph Vicari, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, is reminding residents to beware of fraudulent charitable solicitations when seeking to donate to relief efforts.

“Like the aftermath of any disaster, the Hawaiian wildfire recovery brings out the best in people,” said Vicari, liaison to the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs.

“Unfortunately, it also brings out the scammers.”

Vicari said the county office, along with the state Division of Consumer Affairs, has issued guidelines donators can follow if they want to ensure their money is helping those in need:

  • 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—but 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 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 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 directly to find out if the email notice is valid.

“We all want to help the people struggling to rebuild their lives. Following these simple guidelines will foil the scammers and help rebuild these disaster-stricken communities,” Vicari sai

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