Chile Quake: FBI Hit List of Charity Frauds

It is wise to suspect that the FBI is on alert again over the world’s con men who take advantage of charity-givers after the Chile Quake.
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March 1, 2010 - PRLog -- Even as devastated Chileans stand in need of clean water, food, and basic needs to survive, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, in a wise and prudent move has put off requests for international help for Chile until proper needs assessments are completed. She has instead ordered supermarkets to be opened with government supervised give-aways of free food.
Having said this, we can say that authorities are aware of the need for caution. Tragedies can be the target of pillage by frauds, scammers and phishers.
Not too long ago when Haiti was hit with a killer quake, FBI spokesman Paul E. Bresson said investigators have begun looking into a "small number at this point, predominantly unsolicited e-mails" masquerading as legitimate charities seeking donations. While investigations are ongoing, FBI has nailed down individuals who have taken advantage of people’s kindness in recent tragedies. They are:

Busted: Charity Con Men

Busted: Gary Kraser, Florida.
Modus: Set up a bogus web site in the aftermath of Katrina, called Solicited money so he and other Florida pilots could "fly in medical supplies and transport children in need of immediate medical attention," according to his federal indictment in Miami. Kraser also lied about working for Air Force One for four different presidents.
Net Loot: $40,000
Sentence: 21 months in prison

Busted: Matthew Schmieder, Pittsburgh
Modus: Sent out 800,000 e-mails soliciting donations to help victims of the 2005 tsunami. The unemployed Pittsburgh painter later told the FBI he thought it would be OK to use the money to fix his car and pay bills if he gave some to charity, according to NBC News.
Net Loot: Unreported
Sentence: Probation and was ordered to pay $2,650 in restitution.

Busted: Bogus IRS solicitation for 2007 victims of California Wildfires, perpetrators unreported.
Modus: The bogus e-mails included an excerpt of a speech by a California Assembly member on wildfires and urged donors to click a link. It led to a bogus IRS Web site that solicited donations.

Tell-Tale Signs the Charity is A Fraud

Having said this, how can we help in these times of yet another? The Better Business Bureau said in a statement in the aftermath of the Haiti disaster:
Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities. Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.

Here are some key tips BBB published on its website about donations:

•   Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
•   Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
•   Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.
•   Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.
•   Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance. See if the charity's Web site clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.
•   Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider "avoiding the middleman" and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

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