We wrote several years ago about Hurricane Katrina scams – people trying to exploit our sympathy for the victims of the tragedy by setting up fraudulent websites and fake charities. The FBI and FTC have recently announced a number of similar scams related to Hurricane Gustav. More than 300 Gustav-related internet addresses were registered in the hours immediately before and after Gustav hit the Gulf Coast. Many of them include keywords such as "help", "victims", "survivors" and "aid". There might be a few legitimate sites mixed in among these but the vast majority are scams. They are sites set up to con good people out of their contributions – or perhaps just trying to bait you into visiting their virus-laden website. Either way, if you’re going to give to the victims of a disaster like Hurricane Gustav, you need to do your homework before sending in that check.

  • Never respond directly to an email request for money. If you think the request might be legitimate, ask for written information about the charity including their official name, physical address and telephone number.
  • Contact the charity directly and be sure that they know about the solicitation and have authorized the use of their name. (You’d be amazed how many people claim to be collecting for the Red Cross but just pocket the cash – or pass on some miniscule percentage of the contribution.)
  • Be especially cautious about suspiciously similar names. Many of these scam sites will attempt to mimic the legitimate charities.
  • If you don’t remember making a pledge, you probably didn’t. Don’t let yourself be pressured into sending anyone money.
  • Avoid cash donations. Don’t give out your credit card number either. Checks are best because they leave a paper trail – better for the FBI if it’s a scam and better for you if it’s legit so you can claim the tax deduction with the IRS.
  • If you’ve already made a donation to a "charity" that you now believe was fraudulent, contact your local FBI office so they can investigate it.

For more, go the the FTC’s Consumer Protection website.

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