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How to Help Survivors of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane HarveyWith many Pennsylvanians donating goods and services and collecting funds to assist storm survivors in Texas, the Pennsylvania Department of StatePennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General want all Pennsylvanians to know how they can best help and not hinder rescue and recovery efforts, while also protecting themselves.

While donations of goods such as food and clothing are well-intentioned, unsolicited materials can overwhelm organizations that are tasked with helping survivors but are unprepared to store, sort and distribute large quantities of donated goods. The most useful form of assistance is donations of money.  Make check and credit card donations to well-established, charitable organizations that are assisting the flood relief effort.  Monetary donations allow charitable organizations the flexibility to purchase items that are needed most, and unlike material donations, entail no transportation costs.

The above-mentioned state agencies offer the following tips:

  • Do not give to a charity you know nothing about. Call the charity or do some research on your own.  Search the name online, with the word “complaints” or “scams.”  Check with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Do not donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization.
  • For door-to-door solicitors, ask to see the person’s identification and consider avoiding them altogether.  Do not feel pressured into giving and allowing someone into your house.
  • Do not give credit card numbers, bank account numbers or other personal financial information over the phone.  Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity.
  • Whenever possible, write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donation.  Or, make a donation directly through a legitimate organization’s secure website, rather than a third-party website.
  • Do not click links in unsolicited emails or on social media. Unless you previously donated to an organization, assume that an unsolicited donation request by email is a scam.  Plus, links in emails or social media can unleash malware.

Charitable organizations that solicit contributions in Pennsylvania must register with the department’s Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations if their gross annual contributions are more than $25,000.  There are some statutory exclusions and exemptions to the registration requirement for groups such as religious institutions, hospitals, and police, firefighter or veteran organizations.   To determine if a charitable group is property registered, please visit the Charities Online Database at www.charities.pa.gov. The site also provides a link with a listing of organizations that have been subject to corrective actions taken by the Bureau.  The public may also call 1-800-732-0999.

The Annual Charities Report online contains detailed information about charitable organizations registered in Pennsylvania and professional solicitors and fundraising counsels.  The report outlines what percentage of every donated dollar goes to the charity and how much is charged by the solicitors or counsels for their services.  That report is available by clicking here or at www.dos.pa.gov.

If you believe you have been scammed, please contact the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or scams@attorneygeneral.gov.


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