NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Even as horror struck last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., fraud artists were on the prowl, presumably rubbing their hands in glee over the chance to profit financially from arguably the worst school-related tragedy in U.S. history.
But even 20 children dying at the hands of a psychopath won’t stop someone who lives by the adage “never let a good opportunity go to waste,” no matter how sick and twisted the individual.
Unfortunately, dealing with fraudsters looking to make a quick buck on Sandy Hook-related charities may be one more issue to deal with as the fallout from the tragedy unfolds.
That’s why one consumer advocacy group, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Fraud Center, is warning Americans to do their homework before donating money to charities linked to Sandy Hook.
"One of the most despicable after-effects of these national tragedies is the attempt to profit off of them by cybercriminals who send out fake solicitations for donations and aid," explains James Lee, executive director of the Consumer Fraud Center. "We saw several of these scams pop up after 9/11 and criminals have gotten more brazen with emails, phishing scams and fake websites. We urge consumers to double-check with news sources and law enforcement to make sure their donations are going to the right groups."
Lee says consumer fraud criminals thrive in a charitable environment where two key themes are in play – emotion and confusion. On that front, Sandy Hook is a big target for con artists. The good news – if there is any this week – is that there are fail-proof ways to guarantee your donation makes it through to Sandy Hook victims and their families intact and fraud-free.
"When in doubt as to where to send a donation initially,” Less says, “we strongly recommend supporting a reputable first responder organization such as the American Red Cross. And if you are making your donation online, please do so proactively by going onto their website and not by responding to an email solicitation.”
Also, be skeptical if you are approached directly by groups looking for charitable donations.
"Unless you are on a specific group's mailing list, or already are following them on Facebook or Twitter, it's unlikely you would receive a general solicitation for money,” Lee says.
Besides the American Red Cross, the CFC suggests the following groups for fraud-free donations:
- United Way of Western Connecticut: The United Way has established a charitable account via the Newtown Savings Bank for donations to support the victims' families.
- Newtown Youth & Family Services: The NYFS is acting as a local clearinghouse for charitable funding in Sandy Hook, and can refer your donation to a reputable group.
- Newton Memorial Fund and Robin Hood Relief Fund: Both groups provide direct relief services to Sandy Hook victims and their families.