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BBB warns Hoosiers to watch for scams when donating to Hawaii recovery efforts

Summer Gerlingpicks up her piggy bank found in the rubble of her home following the wildfire Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens sounded before people ran for their lives from wildfires on Maui that wiped out a historic town. The Better Business Bureau is warning Hoosiers to watch for scams when donating to Hawaii recovery efforts. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the wake of the most devastating natural disaster to hit Hawaii in decades, online scammers are taking advantage of people’s generosity as they try to help get Maui back on its feet.

The Better Business Bureau is warning of the potential for scammers and is delivering a warning over what to be looking out for when ready to give.

First, the BBB says, look for organizations that have a clear and straightforward appeal regarding donations.

“Be wary of any kind of emotional appeal that is demanding that you give right away. Reputable charities will always give you time to do your homework,” Melanie Mcgovern, national spokesperson for the BBB.

Next, look for “experience in disaster relief.” Research organizations and be skeptical of organizations that may have formed overnight. Look for established, well-known entities like the American Red Cross and the United Way.

The BBB says to donate money rather than goods, examine crowdfunding requests, and finally, verify charity trustworthiness. Look for organizations that meet the BBB’s 20 requirements to be a reputable group.

Help is desperately needed in Hawaii. Authorities say at least 99 people are now confirmed dead. This makes the Maui wildfires the deadliest in the U.S. in more than 100 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green estimates the fires have caused $6 billion in damage. Green says thousands of people lost their homes and a total of 2,700 structures were destroyed in Lahaina. Residents who lost their homes but have stayed on the island are living in hotels, Airbnbs, or other rental places and thousands of tourists have evacuated the island.

The BBB suggests making a donation through the following accredited agencies:

Any charity that solicits donations in Hawaii must be registered with the Department of the Attorney General. Click here to see if the charity of your choice is registered.

There are also several online resources that can be used to confirm if a charity is legitimate, including Charity Navigator and the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search.

If you were affected by the fire, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has more on where you can find financial assistance, food, or shelter.