Editorial Policy

Banks and Consumers Step Up to Help Out in Hurricane Sandy's Wake

Marcia Frellick

October 31, 2012

The destruction caused by superstorm Sandy is inspiring businesses and individuals alike to offer financial relief to the 60 million people expected to be directly affected.

By all accounts, the financial toll will be enormous – the Associated Press reports $20 billion just for the physical damage and another $30 billion in lost business.

Feeling the pinch on a smaller scale are consumers unable to log on to their online accounts or get to a bank to make a deposit — and who are therefore in danger of getting hit with overdraft or insufficient funds fees.

In response, many major banks are offering their customers on the East Coast a break:

  • JP Morgan Chase is waiving insufficient funds fees, extended overdraft fees and late fees for loans and credit cards until Nov. 1 for customers in affected areas, according to the Huffington Post. Customers have until the end of the business day Nov. 1 to make deposits to avoid these fees.
  • Wells Fargo is waiving late fees and out-of-network ATM fees through Nov. 1, and Barclays is waiving cash advance fees according to CNBC.
  • Citibank is waiving out-of-network ATM fees in affected areas until an unspecified date, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Bank of America customers in affected areas can call the bank to have fees incurred because of the storm waived, according to Time.

Consumers looking for ways to help are also stepping up, making donations online, over the phone, by mail and in person.

Unfortunately, scammers often step up their efforts as well after disasters.

While the urge to give now and give quickly may take over, take a moment to make sure your donation will be used the way you intended.

The Better Business Bureau advises doing a quick bit of research to decide which charity will put your donation to the best use. Check whether an organization you’re considering meets the 20 BBB standards for charity accountability.You can also check the Internal Revenue Service’s list of tax-exempt organizations.

The primary central location for donations is the Red Cross. You can access its system in several ways: Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or make a $10 donation by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999. People mailing checks can send them to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013, or to their local Red Cross chapter.

Other legitimate organizations will be collecting funds as well, so here are some tips for vetting them:

  • Watch out for organizations that have names just slightly different from the name of a legitimate charity.
  • If you hear that “100 percent of the donation will be used to assist victims,” be suspicious. Charities have to use a percentage of donations to pay costs for staff and operations. Even a credit card donation involves a small processing fee.
  • Pay by credit card, debit card or check rather than cash. These methods offer the best tracking and protection. If you do pay by check, make it out to an organization rather than to an individual.
  • Don’t respond to an emailed link. That may lead you to a fake website that looks very much like the real thing. Look up the organization’s website, then look for the link to donate from there.
  • Avoid charities that pressure you to use wire services such as Western Union or MoneyGram to transfer money. Legitimate charities won’t do that.
  • Check the charity’s Web address ending. Most legit ones end in .org rather than .com.

If you do uncover a scam or suspect one, report it to the FBI and National Center for Disaster Fraud’s hotline at 866-720-5721.