A week after devastating tornadoes hit Kentucky and other states, federal officials warn the possibility of fraud remains high. The Justice Department has a 24 hour hotline to report suspicions of fraud.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud 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.
“We have witnessed great acts of courage and selflessness as families and communities attempt to heal and rebuild from the devastation caused by the recent deadly tornadoes,” commented David J. Hale, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky. “The Department of Justice will support our citizens’ recovery efforts by vigorously pursuing any person or business that may attempt to prey on storm victims. Any suspected disaster fraud should be reported promptly.”
The NCDF hotline number is 1-866-720-5721.
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, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving 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 purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources.
- Be cautious of emails 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 that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations 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 coercive tactics.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or 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 maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.