Consumer group issues alert to generous regarding disaster scams – National Consumers League

January 20, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Expected to Cause Uptick in Reports of Donations to Fraudulent Charity Schemes to National Consumers League’s Fraud Center

Contact: Carol McKay, (412) 408-3688,

WASHINGTON, DC—Over the years, opportunistic con artists have exploited both natural disasters and terrorist attacks to bilk generous consumers attempting to make financial contributions to rescue efforts, warns the National Consumers League. The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti will likely be no exception.

NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, collects consumers’ complaints of telemarketing and Internet fraud through NCL’s Fraud Center (, and anticipates it will soon receive reports of hurricane-related scams. “In the days following a natural disaster, we begin to hear from consumers about crooks’ attempt to take advantage of tragic events for their personal gain,” said John Breyault, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center.

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, as well after Hurricane Katrina, NCL’s Fraud Center received reports of a variety of scams tailored by con artists to capitalize on the rescue efforts. Scams typically involve con artists sending out emails purporting to come from a known and respected charity such as the Red Cross or Oxfam International.  Victims are then directed to a fake Web site made to look like a legitimate charity’s site, where they are asked to hand over personal information or to donate via wire transfer, PayPal, or a credit or bank account.  The scammer then makes off with the donation, and no funds are sent to support actual disaster relief.

“The continued tragedy of fraud perpetrated in the wake of such disasters is that charity scams not only rob the donors,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “They divert contributions from legitimate charities, who are in great need for money and goods to assist those who need it most.”

  • NCL warns consumers to be especially wary of emails from strangers. While many legitimate companies, organizations, and individuals are using the Internet to mobilize help for disaster victims and share information about the latest developments, crooks may use email or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to reach a wide audience of potential victims.

“Be cautious about any solicitation that mentions the disaster. Consumers interested in giving to the relief effort should give to charities they know and trust,” said Breyault. “If someone claims to be collecting money that will go to charities, ask which ones and check with them directly to make sure it’s true.”

The FBI has also issued warnings about unsolicited emails or messages from social networking sites asking for donations and claiming to represent a quake victim or a government or charity official and asks for donations. Also, the agency says, do not click on any links within those emails or on attached files labeled photos or video because they may contain viruses.

  • Consumers can confirm that charities are properly registered by contacting their state charities regulators, which are listed in the state government pages of their telephone books. Information about charities is also available from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, 703-276-0100, Consumers can also check out charities at GuideStar (, and Charity Navigator (, both of which contain links to legitimate charities working on the relief effort.
  • Consumers can report disaster-related telemarketing or Internet fraud to NCL’s Fraud Center at the online complaint form on


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit