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disaster fraud


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin today urged West Virginians to remain watchful for potential disaster fraud scams as a result of Superstorm Sandy that caused widespread destruction in several states including West Virginia nearly a month ago.  Suspected fraudulent activity pertaining to relief efforts associated with Hurricane Sandy should be reported to the toll-free National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721.  The hotline is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the purpose of reporting suspected scams being perpetrated by criminals in the aftermath of disasters.

U.S. Attorney Goodwin said, “There are citizens who are still in the process of trying to put their lives back in order as a result of last month’s devastating storm.  And in all likelihood, West Virginians are still eager to help out.”  Goodwin continued, “I ask people to continue to use caution: there are criminals who will take advantage of that generosity. It’s a good idea to stick with charities you know and trust. If a stranger calls and asks you for money, do your homework before donating. And if you suspect someone is up to no good, call the authorities.”

In the wake of natural disasters, many individuals feel moved to contribute to victim assistance programs and organizations across the country.  The Department of Justice and the FBI remind the public to apply a critical eye and do due diligence before giving to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of hurricane victims.  Solicitations can originate as emails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings, telephone calls and similar methods.

Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including the following:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) 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.
  • Rather than following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by using Internet-based resources.
  • 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. 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.
  • Most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.

If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud by a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of hurricane victims, or if you discover fraudulent disaster relief claims submitted by a person or organization, contact the NCDF by phone at (866) 720-5721, fax at (225) 334-4707 or email at

You can also report suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at

Updated January 7, 2015

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