They are a particularly heartless breed of con artist: bogus charities and relief workers seeking "donations" by email, telephone and other means in the aftermath of such disasters as this weekend's deadly Philippines typhoon.
Americans, known for their generosity to earthquake, flood, storm and famine-stricken areas worldwide, are the favorite targets of such scams.
The FBI and other federal agencies have partnered with legitimate relief organizations to warn about and investigate such cons through the National Center for Disaster Fraud.
NCDF was launched in 2005 as an informational clearinghouse under the auspices of the Department of Justice after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Its mission later was expanded to include suspected fraud related to any natural or man-made disaster.
The NCDF warns those wishing to help the Philippines where as of Monday more than 10,000 were believed dead and 600,000 left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan to "apply a critical eye and do due diligence before giving to anyone soliciting donations" on behalf of victims.
The face of fraud may be hidden, as in pleas for money from emails, through websites, mailings and telephone calls, but con artists may even knock on your door with earnest pitches for donations, fraud watchers caution.
Some tips from the FBI for making sure your donations go where they should:
• Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including by clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.
• Be cautious of individuals representing themselves as victims 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 following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by using Internet-based resources.
• Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because those files may contain viruses. Open attachments only from known senders.
• To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations 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 coercive tactics.
• Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable 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.
• Remember, legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.
If you believe you have been targeted for relief fraud, you can call the NCDF hotline at 866-720-5721 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can report incidents to the www.ic3.gov/default.aspx">FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov">http://www.ic3.gov.