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When People Face Tough Times, Crooks Try to Profit

Facing a personal hardship can be stressful. But con artists trying to take advantage of these situations to steal money or valuable information often makes matters worse. Criminals may pretend to be from disaster-relief organizations asking for 'donations,' or scammers may offer fake jobs to individuals looking for employment. Fraudsters know that people dealing with serious events may be distracted and easily deceived. Here are some precautions.

Protect personal and financial information. Don't provide bank or credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone, through email, text messages, or the Internet unless you initiate the communication and know the other party is reputable. Review financial statements so you can quickly report any irregularities. And always keep your checkbook, blank checks, used checks, account statements, credit cards, and other financial items in a secure location.

Look out for the people you care for. Since many scams target the ill or the elderly, pay attention to suspicious behavior, such as a sudden and unexpected major purchase, the opening or closing of a bank or card account without a good reason, or hiding financial statements to conceal what may appear to be an embarrassing mistake. 

Only give to charities that you are familiar with or have researched. Check them out with the state government office that regulates charities, which you can find at the website of the National Association of State Charity Officials at

Use caution when making online donations. Go directly to a charity's website by independently confirming the address. Don't click on a link in an email or random website because it may lead to a fake site.

Walk away from any offer or request that involves pressure to act quickly. Be suspicious if asked for money or personal information on the spot. Be particularly wary if someone says you previously agreed to send money and don't remember doing so.

If you're a disaster victim, be careful about accepting unsolicited offers to make repairs. Ask people you trust for recommendations of licensed and insured contractors. Check out local businesses, including complaints against them. Start by contacting your state Attorney General's office or your state or local consumer affairs office. Ask for prices and other important information in writing before you agree to anything and understand any document that needs a signature.

Be aware that con artists sometimes pose as debt collectors. Following a disaster, crooks know that people fall behind on bills, so they attempt to collect on non-existent debts, often by posing as belligerent debt collectors or officials from the government or a law enforcement agency.