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Beware of Hurricane Sandy-Related Fraud and Scams, Authorities Warn

By Irene Plagianos | November 2, 2012 4:42pm

NEW YORK CITY — As storm-battered New Yorkers continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, authorities warn there’s another hurricane-related threat on the horizon: disaster fraud.

Scammers trying to capitalize on the chaos in the wake of a massive hurricane come in a variety of forms — like charity fraudsters, shady contractors and price gougers, federal authorities said.

On Friday, the Justice Department, along with the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), warned those looking to help the thousands of storm victims to be cautious when it comes to donations.

Despite the storm, charity scams are all too common after natural disasters, authorities said.

Official are asking potential donors to “apply a critical eye and do due diligence” before sending  money to the emails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls soliciting donations in the name of helping others.

The NCDF, originally established in 2005 by the DOJ to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud associated with federal disaster-relief programs following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, offers a list of some mostly commonsense tips:

• Do not respond to any unsolicited incoming emails, including by clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.

• Be cautious of individuals representing themselves as victims or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.

• Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

• Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because those 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.

• 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.

If you think that you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact the NCFD at their hotline (866) 720-5721, or email at disaster@leo.gov. You can also report suspicious email solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also warning Hurricane victims to beware of shady contractors as they try to rebuild their homes and businesses — and to watch out for price gouging as people look for needed supplies, and even taxis.

A list of tips can be found here.

Report scammers to the AG's office at, or file a complaint online at: www.ag.ny.gov.