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Puerto Rico relief scams prompt warning from state lawmaker

The head of the state Assembly’s Consumer Fraud Protection Committee issued a warning Wednesday to New Yorkers looking to donate money to Puerto Rico relief efforts: Do it “with care.”

Assemb. Rebecca Seawright, speaking at a news conference in Manhattan, said scammers routinely use natural disasters, such as the back-to-back hurricanes that pummeled Puerto Rico last month, to solicit money for sham charities.

“Make sure you vet who is calling you, who is writing you . . . the bottom line is care — with care,” said Seawright (D-Manhattan).

Seawright offered anecdotal evidence of such scams, saying her office frequently receives calls from senior citizens reporting they were bilked by callers purporting to represent local charities.

“We are issuing this consumer protection warning because, even in New York, far away from the wreckage in Puerto Rico, we can be the victims of fraud,” Seawright said.

Jean Shafiroff, author of “Successful Philanthropy,” a book on charitable giving, joined Seawright on Wednesday and offered tips for weeding out fraudulent charities.

Shafiroff said prospective donors can look up a charity’s track record on the website Guidestar.org, which rates the efficiency of IRS-recognized tax-exempt organizations. She also encouraged donors to stick to long-established nonprofits such as the Red Cross, World Vision and the Hispanic Federation.

“I would not rely on social media to help you choose a charity,” Shafiroff said.

Seawright said the U.S. Department of Justice has established a “disaster-related fraud” hotline and email address for victims to report scammers. Those looking to report fraudulent activity can email disaster@leo.gov or call 866-720-5721.

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