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Posted on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Beware of fraud before donating to disaster relief

By Kristin Judge


"Free image courtesy of"

Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of a national tragedy like Hurricane Sandy that recently hit our east coast. It is with such sadness that I have to even write this column, when I know so many of our fellow Americans are trying to get the help they need. In no way should you be discouraged from giving if you are able, but please give responsibly knowing there are bad guys looking to take your money.

Taking a few minutes to educate yourself can give you peace of mind before you help others. The importance of this issue prompted more than 20 federal agencies to cooperate in the formation of the National Center for Disaster Fraud.

The NCDF was created by the Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud after Hurricane Katrina. The mission has expanded to all natural disaster related fraud. The NCDF can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 866-720-5721 or by email at

Today’s Quick Tips:

(These tips come directly from

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

• Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, 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 e-mail 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 nonprofit organizations.

• Be cautious of e-mails 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.”

To get more great information about staying safe online, including access to free monthly newsletters, webcasts and more, visit the Center for Internet Security at Stay tuned for our next chat!

Kristin Judge is the Executive Director of the Trusted Purchasing Alliance, a division of the Center for Internet Security. She can be reached at