Hurricane Ian: How you can help victims and avoid scams

Hurricane Ian’s most damaging winds began hitting Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday, lashing the state with heavy rain and pushing a devastating storm surge after strengthening near to the threshold of the most dangerous Category 5 status.

"This is going to be a nasty nasty day, two days," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, stressing that people in Ian’s path along the coast should rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.

Hundreds of residents were being evacuated from several nursing homes in the Tampa area, where hospitals were also moving some patients. Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West closed. Busch Gardens in Tampa closed ahead of the storm, while several Orlando-area theme parks, including Disney World and Sea World, planned to close Wednesday and Thursday.

RELATED: Hurricane Ian near Category 5 strength, eyewall moving onshore in SW Florida

Charitable organizations are offering ways to help people to help victims of Hurricane Ian. 

Florida Disaster Fund

The state of Florida has set up a private Florida Disaster Fund to respond to relief efforts as Ian makes its way on land. The money will be distributed to different organizations that serves people in various communities with disaster response and recovery. 

Donations to the Florida Disaster Fund are made to the Volunteer Florida Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and are tax-deductible. Up to 3%, however, no more than $30,000 will be taken from each donation to cover administrative costs, including but not limited to staff salary, indirect costs and credit card and bank transaction fees.

RELATED: Here's how the 'Waffle House Index' measures a hurricane's potential impact

If you prefer to donate by check, please make your check out to "Volunteer Florida Foundation" and include "Florida Disaster Fund" in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to Volunteer Florida Foundation at 1545 Raymond Diehl Road, Suite 250, Tallahassee, FL 32308.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has already moved volunteers to Florida to help with any relief efforts. 

The non-profit is asking for donations by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. You can visit, call 800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation today.

If you donors specifically want to donate to victims of Hurricane Ian, the Red Cross asks that they write "Hurricane Ian" in the memo line of a check and mail it to their local Red Cross chapter with a completed donation form to the address on the form or to their local Red Cross chapter.

The Red Cross is also asking people to donate blood if possible, especially Type O which is routinely in short supply. 

RELATED: Damage reported after Hurricane Ian triggers dozens of tornado warnings in South Florida

Salvation Army 

The Salvation Army says donations can be made online: or by phone: 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769).

Starbucks, World Central Kitchen 

Starbucks says employees and customers can help impacted communities by making donations at any U.S. company-owned store or on the World Central Kitchen’s website

Beware of charity scams

The Federal Communications Commission has offered tips to avoid being the victim of a charitable scam:

  • Donate to trusted, well-known charities. Beware of scammers who create fake charities during natural disasters. Always verify a charity's legitimacy through its official website. If you have doubts, you can check with Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar. You can also check with the National Association of State Charity Officials whether charities must be registered in your state and if the charity contacting you is on file with your state.
  • Verify all phone numbers for charities. If you need to contact a charity by phone, check the charity's official website to see if the number you have is legitimate. If you're using text-to-donate, check with the charity to ensure the number is legitimate before donating.
  • Do not open suspicious emails. If you receive a suspicious email requesting donations or other assistance, do not click on any links or open any attachments. Scammers regularly use email for phishing attacks and to spread malware.
  • Verify information in social media posts. Double-check any solicitation for charitable donations before you give. Crowd-funding websites often host individual requests for help but they are not always vetted by the site or other sources.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.