Whenever a hurricane blows into town, the scammers come with it. Here’s some advice from our Crime Watch partner Jim Marshall, the public affairs specialist for FBI Miami:
The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, years of fraud complaints followed. By 2009, the National Center for Disaster Fraud, the multi-agency fraud task force set up to handle this situation, received more than 36,000 complaints, which lead to more than 1,300 individuals indicted for Katrina-related crimes.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud is now accepting hurricane fraud tips by phone at 866-720-5721 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suspected internet-based fraud can also be reporter to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov.
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Here are some tips for individuals who are considering making donations:
▪ Donate to charities you know and trust.
▪ Designate the disaster to ensure your funds go toward disaster relief.
▪ Never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited e-mail.
▪ Don't assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization.
▪ Verify the legitimacy of any e-mail solicitation by contacting the organization directly through a trusted contact number.
▪ Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
▪ Avoid cash donations. 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 charity websites end in “.org” rather than “.com”.
Make contributions directly, rather than relying on others to make a contribution on your behalf.
Criminals often exploit disasters for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions. The FBI is dedicated to investigating and preventing this type of fraud, especially when it involves preying on individuals during times of great need.
Here are several reputable organizations helping hurricane victims.
▪ Catholic Charities USA, https://catholiccharitiesusa.org
▪ Salvation Army, www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org
▪ Greater Houston Community Foundation, https://ghcf.org
▪ Neighbors for Neighbors Channel 4, neighbors4neighbors.org
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to email@example.com, or call her at 305-470-1670.