Giver Beware! Natural Disaster Scams

The old Latin phrase “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” has been on the minds of shoppers since the days of ancient Rome. But following a wave of severe natural disasters in the past year and an outbreak of charity scams that followed, a new one comes to mind. Philanthropists great and small should heed the warning “caveat dator,” or “donor beware.”

Some of the worst example of these cons can be found on the Internet, where bogus spam e-mails and Web sites solicit money from users who often don’t know any better, said Christopher Faulkner, CEO and founder of CI Host, a Web-hosting and data-center operation company. “It seems that after every natural disaster, there’s a group—and it seems to get larger every time—that watches CNN and says, ‘This is a money maker for me,’” he said. “We saw this with the tsunami, and we’ve seen it already with this earthquake that happened over in Asia. Because of the way the Internet works, you can put up a Web site in two hours and appear to be anybody to a novice user. Sometimes it’s even hard for an expert to tell if a Web site is legit or not. You can make money off of people who are trying to help those in need.”

Faulkner cited the example of a man based in Florida who set up a Web site for a phony charity organization that ostensibly was rescuing animals with a helicopter following Hurricane Katrina. Using the…



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