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Federal Agencies Target Hurricane-Related Scams

Following the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston, Texas and surrounding areas, federal agencies – including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – have issue warnings about unscrupulous attempts to scam potential donors in the wake of natural disasters, including through phishing scams designed to look like legitimate charitable pleas.

The guidance is doubly relevant in light of Hurricane Irma’s projected landfall this weekend, with the DOJ’s National Center for Disaster Fraud noting that, “criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions.”

The FTC provided a list of best practices for those wishing to financially support hurricane victims:

  • Donate to charities you know and trustwith a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
  • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving AllianceCharity NavigatorCharity Watch, or GuideStar.
  • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it.You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.
  • Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
  • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate.The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your stateby contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. If they should be registered, but they're not, consider donating through another charity.

The FBI highlighted relevant resources for those who believe they may have encountered relevant fraudulent activity, posting on the agency website that “tips regarding suspected fraud should be reported by phone to (866) 720-5721 or online at disaster@leo.gov. Suspected Internet-based fraud can also be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, at www.ic3.gov.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also tweeted a link of “trusted sources for helping out with #Harvey.”

According to the FBI, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 1,300 individuals were convicted of Katrina-related crimes between the hurricane’s landfall and 2009. In the interest of avoiding a similar situation, the director of the FBI’s Houston office said the agency was, “dedicated to investigating and preventing this type of fraud, especially when it involves preying on individuals during times of great need.”

 

Posted in General News

Tags: natural disasters, scams

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