Beware of disaster fraud in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan

Justice Department warns of potential for fraudulent activity pertaining to relief efforts.

In the devastating aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst natural disasters the region has ever seen, the international community has stepped up efforts to offer help and send relief through various fundraising events and donation drives. There are a lot of great organizations you can make donations to, but my household is supporting the work of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.

That said, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud remind the public that there is a potential for disaster fraud in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Suspected fraudulent activity pertaining to relief efforts associated with Typhoon Haiyan should be reported to the 24-hour toll-free NCDF hotline at 866-720-5721.

Before making a donation of any kind, the NCDF suggests adhering to certain guidelines:

- Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including by clicking links contained within those messages, because 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 purported link to a 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, because those 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.
If you believe that you've been a victim of fraud by a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, 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.

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