CHICAGO (WGN) — The FBI is warning the public about scammers working to siphon off some of the donations people are giving during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Robert Wheeler Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office, said criminals are using the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East to solicit fraudulent humanitarian donations.
Instead of donating to charities, Wheeler said these criminals are using the money for their own expenses or to support criminal enterprises.
What is charity fraud?
According to the FBI, charity fraud, which is also known as “disaster fraud,” can come in many different forms.
Special agent Wheeler said some perpetrators taking part in these types of crimes may prey on victims within the local community by claiming to collect funds for victimized families abroad.
Foreign terrorist organizations may also take part in these types of crimes by establishing fake charities on social media platforms or through crowdfunding websites.
What to look out for
According to Wheeler, victims could receive fraudulent solicitations by email or phone call; they can also happen through social media posts or crowd-funding website requests.
Criminals taking part may claim to be associated with established charities or part of newly established charities that emerged amid the conflict.
The FBI said those who receive unsolicited emails seeking donations should use caution. Anyone looking to make a donation to a charity should visit the charity’s website directly, rather than by clicking links included in an email.
FBI officials say charities that are seeking donations through cash, gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency pose a red flag, as criminals will often encourage potential victims to make payments through methods that make it difficult to seek reimbursement or track.
Avoiding charity fraud
According to the FBI, those interested in making donations should first research new charities and work to verify any email addresses or phone numbers associated with them.
Those making donations to established charities should work to ensure that they are using the correct website, as scammers are known to take part in “domain spoofing” or “URL hijacking,” where a look-alike website, made to appear like that of an established organization, is created to fraudulently solicit donations.
FBI officials say those looking to confirm whether a charity is registered can visit the IRS’s website to search for more information.
Those who believe they may have fallen victim to a scam can report violations of federal law through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov or by dialing 1-800-CALL-FBI.