National center to coordinate oil spill fraud complaints

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBRC) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that an existing fraud tip line is now accepting information from the public about suspected fraud associated with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The FBI, in a statement Tuesday to FOX6 News, said tips should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, (866) 720-5721. The line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, e-mails can be sent to or information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.

The FBI said fraudulent activity can take many forms. For example, individuals may claim to be raising money for environmental causes or offer fraudulent services pertaining to the oil spill, such as remediation services. Others may submit false insurance claims for property damage.  

The FBI said it created the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Now, its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or man-made disaster. More than 20 federal agencies, including the FBI, participate in the NCDF, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.

The FBI released the following suggestions for people to consider before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide environmental remediation services:

Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages because they may contain computer viruses.

Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of environmental organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.

Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

  • Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions 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 such tactics.
  • Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information.  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.
  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.
  • Most legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.
  • Report individuals who are making false or exaggerated insurance claims.
  • Report individuals who make insurance claims but reside outside of the disaster zone.
  • Beware of contractors who require upfront payment for services because they may fail to perform the work or complete the job to the customer's satisfaction.
  • Require contractors to provide a written contract detailing the services to be performed.
  • Use only licensed contractors.
  • Beware of job opportunities that require the applicant to pay an advanced fee before the job begins.
  • Beware of individuals posing as government officials who require a processing fee to provide government services.

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