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Officials: Beware of donation scams following Katrina

by Maj. Dave Honchul
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Scenes of chaos and destruction resulting from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have left Airmen nationwide wondering how they can help those affected by the tragedy.

Like many Americans across the nation, Airmen and their families seek to help in the hurricane recovery. While these Samaritans donate their hard-earned money for the worthy cause, a criminal element has already swept across the Internet seeking to cash in on the crisis.

"When a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina occurs, fraudulent activities associated with donations often take place," said Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., Air Combat Command staff judge advocate. "What is occurring now is similar to incidents that occurred following crises like the Sept. 11 attacks or the tsunami in Southeast Asia."

According to the New York Times, the Federal Bureau of Investigation lists the number of Web sites purporting to deal with Katrina information and relief at more than 2,300 sites. These include legitimate and nonlegitimate Web pages. The paper reported "the amount of suspicious, disaster-related Web activity was higher than the number of swindles seen online after last year's tsunami."

The fraudulent activities are not restricted to Web pages, General Dunlap said. E-mail solicitations for donations are also prevalent.

"Basically, people should be wary of any unsolicited e-mail requesting money, even if the request appears to come from a legitimate source," the general said. "There have been instances where e-mails mimicked the appearance of legitimate organizations. A good rule of thumb to follow is if you didn't request the e-mail solicitation, don't trust it."

People who receive suspicious e-mails and Web advertisements should report them to the Federal Trade Commission, General Dunlap said.

There are several avenues people can take to ensure any donation they want to make goes toward the charity of their choice.

One is through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency released a list of registered, legitimate charitable organizations that are specifically conducting Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The list, which includes contact information for each organization, is available at www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=18473.

Another avenue available to people is the USA Freedom Corps, a coordinating council housed at the White House. The organization established a fund for Katrina relief through its Web site at www.usafreedomcorps.gov.

Also, Air Force Aid Society officials announced the establishment of a hurricane relief fund where the organization can track contributions being made specifically for the purpose of helping Airmen affected by the hurricane. People can find information about this program through the AFAS Web site at www.afas.org.

People who receive suspicious e-mails or who are directed to suspicious Web sites should report the activity to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/sentinel or call them at 877-382-4357. People can also contact the U.S. Department of Justice at www.internetfraud.usdoj.gov or the Federal Bureau of Investigation at www.IC3.gov.

To confirm the legitimacy of a charitable organization, people can go online to www.guidestar.org. (Courtesy of ACC News Service)

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