It is human nature to want to help those in need whenever a national tragedy occurs. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of this philantropy by tricking generous people into donating money to charity, when the money is never used to help those who need it. Often, the scammers either represent a fictious charity or falsely represent a real charity.
In a perfect world it would be fairly easy for law enforcement to crack down on these criminals, but it is so pervasive that it is difficult for them to catch all the offenders. There are also gray areas in this criminal behavior. For instance, what if someone donates half of the proceeds to the charity, and pockets the other half. Surely this is not what the donators want, but does it break any laws? Unfortunately, in some circumstances this may be completely legal.
The best advice is to only donate to reputable organizations, and only when you are absolutely sure that you are dealing directly with the organization. Don’t trust that person on the other end of the phone that claims they are from the Red Cross with your credit card number. You also have to be careful not to trust that email that looks like it is from the Red Cross; it probably isn’t! This all may sound cynical, but this is what it has come to.
In fact, it has become such a problem that the U.S. Department of Justice has established the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force to help diffuse the scammers.
If you want to be sure you are donating directly to the relief efforts, donate time or money directly to a reputable charity, or donate living space to those in need.
If you feel that you may have been a victim of fraud with one or more of your donations, please call the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Response Center: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Alternatively, you can email your information to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.