FBI warns of charity scammers amid Israel-Hamas war

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The FBI has warned people to be wary of charity scammers amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The organisation said it had received complaints of legitimate email addresses belonging to Israel-based individuals being “hacked or possibly spoofed to solicit donations”. Charity fraud – also known as “disaster fraud” – is especially prevalent during times of increased conflict such as war, natural disasters or epidemics, according to the FBI. Criminals use such tragedies to exploit members of the public looking to support humanitarian efforts. The FBI warning comes exactly one month on from the outbreak of the violence in the Middle East on 7 October – when Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel, and 1,400 people were killed. On Monday, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the death toll had surpassed 10,000, with the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, saying the enclave was becoming a “graveyard for children”. Robert Wheeler Jr, special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office said that “disaster fraud” can come in many forms. “Perpetrators may claim to be associated with established charities or creators of new charities associated with emergent conflicts,” Mr Wheeler said in a statement on Monday. “Some perpetrators may prey on their own local communities by claiming to collect funds for victimized families abroad while actually using collected funds for their own personal expenses or in support of criminal enterprises domestically or internationally. “Foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs) often establish fake charities using social media platforms to subsidise their operations. Fraudulent solicitations may take the form of a social media post, an email, a cold call, or a crowdfunding website request.” The FBI also provided a list of “common red flags” to help the public detect potential fraudulent activity. These include things such as unsolicited emails seeking donations and “charities” asking for payment with cash, gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. Criminals will often encourage payment by methods that are difficult to track or seek reimbursement. The bureau urged the public to research unknown or new charities online and verify phone numbers and email addresses before donating. “Charity scams prey on both local communities and vulnerable populations devastated by life-altering catastrophes,” the FBI statement read.

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