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Beware Hurricane Katrina scams
After every disaster, the con artists come out of the woodwork to bilk well-meaning Americans.
September 9, 2005: 11:05 AM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money staff writer
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CNN's Andy Serwer talks about what to watch for when making a donation to the hurricane victims. (September 1)
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New York (CNN/Money) - Whenever a disaster like Hurricane Katrina strikes and brings widespread anguish to so many Americans, their fellow citizens rush to help.

Much of this aid comes in the form of money and most people funnel their contributions through legitimate charities. But many of the unsuspecting are caught in the webs of unscrupulous scam artists and their contributions go to waste.

According to ScamBusters.org, here are some of the most common scams that arise after a disaster:

  • Phishing scams: In this scheme scamsters use fake Web sites that pretend to be legitimate relief organizations. If you click on the site and enter credit card or other financial information it will be used to steal your identity. Any contributions you make go into the pockets of the scammers
  • Viruses and trojans: Spam is sent that includes photos of disaster areas or individual survivors, and these attachments contain computer viruses. These can enable hackers to take control of your computer and obtain information that they can use for identity theft
  • Fee-based spams: These are unsolicited e-mails that offer, for a fee, to locate missing relatives and loved ones caught in the hurricane

There are over 2,000 sites advertising Hurricane Katrina relief services, according to the FBI, and most are presumed to be bogus.

The Justice Department, which has established a Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force to focus on phony charities, identity theft, insurance scams and government benefit fraud, recommends going directly to recognized charities and aid organization's websites, as opposed to following a link to another site.

You can also attempt to verify the legitimacy of non-profit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources to confirm the existence of the organization, as well as its non-profit status.

If you are asked to donate money to an organization that you are not familiar with, the Justice Department recommends checking a variety of sources before sending any money such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, the Internal Revenue Service's list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions or your state attorney general.

Don't get scammed. Follow these tips from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance to make sure your contribution goes to the people who need it.

1) Do not give cash. Make out checks to the organization, not to the person soliciting the contribution.

2) Check out organizations with your local charity registration office.

Or go to http://www.give.org/reports/index.asp and click on the Wise Giving Alliances reports on individual charities soliciting for Katrina relief. This will show what percentage of the funds each of these charities receives that normally goes to the actual cause.

3) Don't respond to e-mail requests. Legitimate charities do not use e-mail to solicit new contributors. ScamBusters says the chance that an e-mail request for a contribution is from a legitimate charity is near zero.

4) Don't feel pressured to give more than you feel comfortable with. Legitimate charities will accept and be grateful with whatever you choose to contribute.

For more tips on responsible charitable giving, click here.  Top of page

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