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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Top 10 FBI Guidelines to Avoid Disaster Relief Scams

Solicitation for donations can come from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods.  In the wake of natural disasters, such as the recent series of tornadoes in the Midwest and South, along with the flooding in Paradise, many individuals find themselves wanting to reach out and help in time of need by contributing to disaster relief programs. 
What can you do before making a donation to avoid falling prey of a disaster fraud scam? 
Consider these FBI guidelines prior to participating in a donation solicitation or contributing to any victim assistance program or organization:
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
  • Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
  • Rather than following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources.
  • Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
  • Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use coercive tactics.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
  • Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.
·         Most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.
If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud by a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of tornado victims, or if you discover fraudulent disaster relief claims submitted by a person or organization, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at (866) 720-5721, fax at (225) 334-4707 or email at disaster@leo.gov.