The WCSO Financial Crimes Unit offers the following precautions:
• Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including clicking links contained within those messages because they could contain computer viruses.
• Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of environmental organizations 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 follow a professed link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources to confirm the group’s existence and its nonprofit status.
• Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files could contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
• To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions 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 such pressure tactics.
• Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information can lead 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.
• Do not send money via Western Union or any electronic means if you’re called regarding a loved one who has been incarcerated in another county, state, or country without verification of that family member’s status.
• Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at the very minimum, a processing fee.
• Legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.
The WCSO encourages the public to report these fraudulent scams to law enforcement immediately by calling 832-9276.