Red Cross volunteers Bonnie Russell, left, and Nadine Abdullah compare notes as the make damage assessments in Harrison Twp. after the Memorial Day tornadoes. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Red Cross: Email, text offers of cash to tornado survivors is no scam

Victims with destroyed or damaged property may be eligible for $850 in donated funds.

Some area tornado survivors are wondering if recent emails and texts offering them cash assistance are scams.

But the offers of $850 in aid coming from the American Red Cross are real, say some recipients and those working on tornado relief.

“People obviously want to take proper precautions, but the message is coming from the Red Cross, and it is in fact legit,” said Marita Salkowski, the organization’s regional communications director for the Greater Cincinnati Dayton Region.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Walking the Path of the Storm

More than 1,100 individuals and households that experienced major damage or destroyed property and were previously assisted by the Red Cross received the notices, which started going out Jan. 23, Salkowski said.

People began questioning the texts on a Facebook group, Tornado Relief #937.

“I think it may be a scam. Please do not give out personal information,” wrote a group member.

Another responded: “Are you sure these messages are from them for real?”

Lisa Kidd’s first reaction echoed the skepticism.

“I almost deleted it,” she said.

The American Red Cross had contacted her before — by phone. But this was a text coming out of the blue at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Kidd apprehensively clicked on the link displayed in the text. Her Red Cross case number appeared, as well as prompts leading through a few questions about her unmet needs.

“It never asked me anything like my Social Security number, so that’s when I began to feel a little more safe with it,” she said.

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As Kidd continued through the prompts on the text message, she came across multiple choice security questions based on information she’d previously provided the Red Cross.

After that, the app wanted to know how she wanted to receive the funds: through her PayPal account, debit card account or pick up in person at a Walmart location.

“I didn’t want to give them my debit or PayPal, so I said I would just pick it up at Walmart,” Kidd said.

Registration closes soon

The $850 per household now being distributed was donated toward the Dayton area tornado response and not spent during the initial disaster phase, Salkowski said.

“The whole idea is that we want to make sure we honor donor intent, and if people give to a specific disaster, that money actually makes it to those people impacted,” she said. “Now we’re going back and looking at a pool of money, and we’re giving it out again.”

RELATED: Tracking the money: How millions in tornado assistance is being spent

Individuals and households not previously assisted but whose property was destroyed or had major damage can can still receive the cash assistance by registering with the Red Cross. They will need to contact the Dayton office at 937-222-6711 and will be asked to provide documentation attesting to damage.

Entry to the program closes on Feb. 6. If people already entered into the Red Cross database inadvertently deleted the texts or emails, they should call the Dayton Red Cross office to get back on track for the cash assistance, Salkowski said.

‘That never leaves you’

The house Kidd lives in with her 9-year-old son, like others on the Trotwood street not far from Hara Arena, were damaged in the most destructive tornado to hit the region Memorial Day night.

They ran to the bathroom and jumped in the tub.

“The sound of things breaking and rumbling is something that never leaves you,” she said. “Whenever we have heavy wind advisory, we both get anxiety. You think it’s going to happen again.”

Unlike houses on either side of them, their home was damaged but remained habitable. Their landlord, however, has yet to make repairs, which jeopardizes their safety now, Kidd said.

MORE: ‘Zombie’ properties haunt neighborhoods after tornadoes

They are living with broken windows and a front door held together with duct tape and under a damaged roof and cracked ceiling “that looks like it could give any day,” Kidd said.

“I’m dealing with that right now. I’m trying to relocate,” she said. “It’s a really sad situation because we’ve been through enough, and we’re still going through it.”

Kidd said she will have to leave Trotwood and the home she’s been in nearly 13 years, move from the school district her son loves, and live farther away from her mother, now only five minutes away at Friendship Village. The move will require a new deposit and will undoubtedly come with a higher rent payment than the $650 a month she pays now.

Huge blessing

After selecting the payment option on Friday night, Kidd drove immediately to a nearby Walmart.

“The curiosity was killing me,” she said. “I had to go right then.”

MORE: Thousands more denied than awarded FEMA grants

Once at the Walmart, Kidd held her phone screen toward a cashier who punched in a code contained on a message. Kidd simply signed a slip and had cash in hand.

“OK, that was real. But up until then I had no idea because there was nothing sent out, there was nothing on the news,” she said. “That $850 has been a huge blessing to me. It was right on time and very much needed.”

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