HONOLULU – As the devastation of our communities on Maui and Hawaii Island continues to unfold, local and national organizations have created ways for volunteers to assist as well as to provide donations of food, money and other resources. While such efforts provide critical aid, we know that during periods of tremendous need like this, criminals do not hesitate to take advantage of the challenging times to commit fraud and other crimes. For instance, we frequently have seen bad actors do the following during emergencies:
- Use fake charities to solicit donations by either falsely using the names of well-known charities or reasonably presenting as charities that can assist in a disaster;
- Impersonate government officials promising disaster assistance if victims provide money or personal information to the impersonator, including information like dates of birth, social security numbers, and bank account information;
- Impersonate insurance provider representatives requesting money and personal information;
- Solicit victims to invest in non-existent businesses and ventures offering recovery services such as cleanup, rebuild options, and products to make homes more resistant to future disasters such as wildfires;
Moreover, victims are frequently further victimized by property theft of businesses and residences abandoned during the disaster. To avoid becoming a victim of these types of crimes, here are a few suggestions:
- Only make donations to known charities. Research the charity by visiting recognized charity information/rating websites such as the www.Give.org, CharityNavigator.org, and CharityWatch.org;
- Do not make a donation in response to an e-mail, instant message, phone call, text, etc. Contact the charity directly through its website or public telephone number;
- Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses;
- Never assume that charity solicitations posted on the internet and social media are legitimate;
- Avoid cash donations to charities – use a credit card or pay with a check;
- Never transmit donations to a named individual;
- Avoid being victimized by impersonators of government officials, insurance companies, investment companies, and other such actors by terminating phone call solicitations or other efforts to engage (e.g., email, texts). Instead, directly call the government agency, insurance company, and/or investment company using a well-advertised/posted phone number and/or e-mail address.
Individuals who have been targeted by fraudsters or been the victim of disaster-related fraud are encouraged to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) at (866) 720-5721 or online at www.justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm. The NCDF is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and various law enforcement and regulatory agencies that serves as a national coordinating agency within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice to improve and further the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of fraud related to natural and man-made disasters, and to advocate for the victims of such fraud.
Clinton Mora is a reporter for Trending Insurance News. He has previously worked for the Forbes. As a contributor to Trending Insurance News, Clinton covers emerging a wide range of property and casualty insurance related stories.