These imposters lead a person to believe that money needs to be sent immediately in order to help out a loved one or persons in urgent need. These imposters are receiving their information from social networking sites, where people commonly post a plethora of personal information about loved ones. It’s important that everyone know and understand the risks involved when posting information on-line. Many of these imposters are from outside the United States.
Here are a few safeguards from the Sheriff’s Office Detectives Division – Financial Crimes Unit:
* 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 members of environmental organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
* Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
* Rather than follow a professed link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status.
* 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 contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions 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 such pressure tactics.
* Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. 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.
* Do not send money via Western Union or any electronic means if you’re called regarding a loved one that has been incarcerated in another county, state, or country without verification of that family member’s status. Example, “your loved one is in jail and you need to send $2,000 through Western Union, care of a private entity, in order to bail them out.”
* Be wary of claims that 100% of donations assist victims. All charities have fund-raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at the very minimum, a processing fee.
* Be cautious when donating online to unfamiliar charities. Be wary of spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. After the tsunami disaster in 2004 and the earthquake in Haiti last year, many websites and organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims turned out to be scams.
* Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middleman and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
* Legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.
* Depend on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on recommendations such as bloggers, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) provides a Wise Giving Guide to charities. The guide shows which charities meet the BBB’s stringent standards.
* Do not post personal information on social networking sites. Advise your acquaintances’ to do the same.
* Do not fall victim to the telephone call that advises, “You’ve just won a Lottery!” These callers will require you to send an “insurance” amount to a certain destination prior to you receiving your winnings.
The Sheriff’s Office encourages the public to report these fraudulent scams to law enforcement immediately by calling 832-WCSO (9276).