As the island nation of Haiti struggles to rebuild after last months catastrophic earthquake, opportunistic con-artists are developing sophisticated scams to bilk citizens out of money intended for relief. Police organizations are warning citizens to be aware and watch out for fraud and scams relating to the recent events in Haiti.
“As with any tragedy, opportunistic criminals find a way to exploit highly-publicized situations to make money,” says First Sergeant Robert P. Chappell, Jr., Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Salem Field Division. “A natural disaster, such as an earthquake or flood, gives a scam artist an excuse to send their e-mails blanketing thousands of people asking them for money,”
Crime prevention experts say scams can appear in several forms whether by email or a personal phone call for a donation. Criminals will identify themselves as legitimate organizations collecting money for relief. Many donors are deceived into believing that their donation will benefit a disaster victim when in fact they never receive any money at all. There is also the potential damage that can result from a criminal having your debit or credit card information.
What can you do to protect yourself so you are not deceived? How can you verify the source you give to is legitimate? Here are a few tips to remember:
- Never release bank, debit or credit card information to an unknown source.
- Make contributions directly to the organizations you know – increasing the chances that your dollars are going towards their intended source.
- Ignore unsolicited spam you receive by e-mail. Delete an unknown email when it arrives, without opening it.
- Verify solicitation requests using two or more independent sources such as your local telephone book, library, local chapter, or business.
- If using the Internet, do your own search and read each Website carefully. Look for errors in spelling and incorrect organization names as clues to possible fraud.
- Just opening a photo can release a costly virus into your computer so resist the urge to view earthquake photos from unknown sources.
- Never assume that your caller ID is fool proof. Scam artists can “spoof” your caller ID into reading anything they want to by using computer technology.
“It is important people provide help to others in times of crisis, but it is just as important that Virginians are aware of ways to protect themselves so they don’t fall victim to a scam,” adds F/Sgt. Chappell.
If you suspect fraud involving Haitian earthquake relief, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) have established a telephone hotline to report fraud. The number is (866) 720-5721. The number is staffed 24 hours a day.