James Smith, assistant director in charge (ADIC) of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is warning the public that criminals are soliciting fake humanitarian donations during the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The FBI has received complaints of legitimate e-mail addresses of Israel-based individuals being hacked or possibly spoofed to solicit donations. Schemes have also directed individuals to a website potentially containing malware.

Charity scams are especially prevalent during times of increased conflict such as war, natural disasters, or epidemics. Criminals use these tragedies to exploit members of the public looking to support humanitarian efforts. This fraud, also known as “disaster fraud,” comes in many forms. Perpetrators may claim to be associated with established charities or creators of new charities associated with emergent conflicts.

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 organizations often establish fake charities using social media platforms to subsidize their operations. Solicitations may begin as a social media post, an email, a cold call, or a crowdfunding website request.

Common red flags indicating possible fraudulent activity may include:

  • Unsolicited e-mails seeking donations. If looking to fund a charity, visit the website directly rather than clicking on links in e-mails.
  • “Charities” asking you to pay with cash, gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. Criminals will often encourage payment by methods that make it difficult to track or seek reimbursement.

To avoid charity frauds:

  • Research new charities online and verify phone numbers or email addresses before donating.
  • If giving to a well-known, established charity, ensure that you are using the correct website. Criminals have been known to engage in “domain spoofing” or “URL hijacking” to create look-alike websites with URLs similar in appearance to those of known organizations. For more information on domain spoofing: ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA201123 
  • Use the Internal Revenue Service’s website (irs.gov) to see if the charity you are using is registered.

“This is an emotional time, and when emotions are high, people may make decisions without exercising due diligence and fully vetting the charity of their choice. The scammers that set up these fraudulent charities are often very sophisticated, so be sure to check things out before sending your money,” said ADIC Smith. “If you think you have been targeted by a charity scam, please report the incident. The FBI is committed to preventing scams and protecting the public from their devastating impact.”

Report charity scams via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov), 1-800-CALL-FBI, or FBI New York at 212-384-1000.