Amid all the discussions about how to prevent further tragedies like Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine, Tucson, and countless more, it’s easy to forget another type of crime that often comes with things like this – the con man. Scam artists take advantage of these situations and others, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks, to try and solicit money from people on behalf of the victims, when, truthfully, they have no intention of actually giving any money or goods to the victims. Instead, what they’re doing is stealing. Thievery. They prey on shocked, grieving, stunned, and angry people. They abuse the generosity of a largely innocent public that just wants to help.
According to an Associated Press article, the family of 6-year old Noah Pozner found out about someone they had no familiarity with trying to collect funds in Noah’s memory, promising to send gifts, money, and cards to the family. The website looked official enough, and even included petitions for gun-control legislation. Noah’s uncle, Alexis Haller, contacted local law enforcement to try and find whoever was behind it.
The website domain has since been transferred to the family, and Noah’s aunt, Victoria Haller, contacted the person who set up the site. He replied by saying that he’d only wanted to honor Noah and never meant anybody any harm.
Following Superstorm Sandy, local and federal officials warned people of potential scam artists that could show up in the form of building contractors who require a Social Security number or banking information before giving an estimate, or people offering government assistance or speedy insurance claims for a fee. They also pose as charity organizations asking for donations for the relief effort.
They may also pretend to be victims or close relatives of victims of a disaster and try to defraud charity organizations and the government by filing false claims. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 22 Red Cross call center workers filed false claims for aid and had members of their families pose as victims to collect aid money. It was Western Union, who got suspicious after what seemed to them to be too many trips from the same people, that alerted the Red Cross to the activity. All told, 49 people were indicted in that scam.
A woman claiming to be the caretaker of the nonexistent child of a nonexistent victim in the Aurora shooting was charged for soliciting donations on behalf of the child. A man who donated toys for the child contacted authorities when someone who sounded like a woman pretending to be the young girl called him.
So what do you do if you want to help victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy? Or victims of any other tragedy or disaster? There are many ways to avoid being scammed. The Better Business Bureau advises looking for charities yourself, rather than responding to people who try and solicit donations from you, especially those who use high-pressure tactics or tear-jerker stories. Doing research into a charity’s history also helps; if you can’t find any history for them, or have trouble finding a permanent address and telephone number for them, you could be putting yourself at risk for being scammed. Avoid donating online unless you’re familiar with the charity and know that their site is secure when giving money (secure pages begin with “https://”).
If you suspect a charity of being fraudulent, contact your local authorities and the Better Business Bureau. You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint with them.