The Villages Voice - July 2013

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Disaster Relief Frauds and Scams

by Seniors VS Crime

Disaster Relief Frauds and Scams

When your heart is wide open, you’re vulnerable.  It’s something scam artists know well.  Villagers are, by and large, very generous when it comes to helping others in times of a disaster or catastrophe.  Scam artists might look upon Villagers as a “soft touch” or “easy mark” for these types of scams.

The Department of Justice, the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) want to remind everyone that there is a potential for disaster fraud in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  Suspected fraudulent activity pertaining to relief efforts associated with any major disaster should be reported to the NCDF hotline at 866-720-5721.  The hotline is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the purpose of reporting suspected scams being perpetrated by criminals in the aftermath of disasters or catastrophes.

NCDF was originally established in 2005 by the Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud associated with federal disaster relief programs following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.  Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud related to any natural or man-made disaster.  More than 20 federal agencies – including the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General and the FBI – participate in the NCDF, allowing the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.

In the wake of natural disasters, many individuals feel moved to contribute to victim assistance programs and organizations across the country.  Seniors Vs Crime, the Department of Justice and the FBI remind everyone to apply a critical eye and do your due diligence before giving to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims.  Solicitations can originate as emails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings, telephone calls, social media and similar methods.

Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including the following:

•    Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, to include clicking any links contained within those messages.  They may contain computer viruses.
•    Be cautious of individuals representing themselves as 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 link provided by an organization to their website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by using Internet-based resources.
•    Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files.  Those files may contain viruses or malware.
•    To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations directly to known organizations rather than through others.
•    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 lead to identity theft.
•    Avoid cash donations.  Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity.  Do not make checks payable to individuals.
•    Don’t send your donation via a wire transfer or money order.

If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud by a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, or if you discover fraudulent disaster relief claims submitted by a person or organization, contact the NCDF by phone at (866) 720-5721, fax at (225) 334-4707 or email at disaster@leo.gov.

You can also report suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Being scammed out of your hard earned money when all you wanted to do was give to those less fortunate can be a very frustrating experience for any Villager.  You feel helpless, defenseless, and unable to fight back.  But you can fight back!  And now you know how!

If you need further assistance or advice, you can always contact your local Seniors Vs Crime office.  There is never a charge for their services.  They can be reached at 352-753-7775 at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in The Villages or at 352-689-4600, Extension 4606 at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office in The Villages.  Volunteers at both offices are ready, willing and trained to assist you.