(WAFB) - The National Center for Disaster Fraud is reminding the public to be aware of and to report any suspected fraudulent schemes involving relief operations and funding for victims of natural disasters.
Unfortunately, criminals will attempt to exploit people after disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media, or by creating fake websites designed to solicit donations.
Tip about suspected fraudulent activity should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721. The phone line is staffed 24/7. Emails can also be sent to email@example.com, or information can be faxed to 225-334-4707.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud was established by the US Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute, and prevent fraud after Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars of relief money was donated to the Gulf Coast area. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the National Center for Disaster Fraud, allowing the center to act as a centralized place for information on disaster-related fraud.
The public should remember to do their due diligence before giving any money to individuals or organizations collecting donations for disaster victims. Before making contributions, donors should consider the following tips:
- Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites
- Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to, but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities
- Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status
- Be cautious of e-mails 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 contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions 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 such tactics
- Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by 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’ websites end in .org rather than .com.