Scammers exploit the chaos after a tragedy

By Christina Rexrode and Robert Ray

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 10:47 p.m. MST

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The family of Noah Pozner was mourning the 6-year-old, killed in the Newtown school massacre, when outrage compounded their sorrow.

Someone they didn't know was soliciting donations in Noah's memory, claiming that they'd send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up, with Noah's name as the address, even including petitions on gun control.

Noah's uncle, Alexis Haller, called on law enforcement authorities to seek out "these despicable people."

"These scammers," he said, "are taking away from families and the spirits of dead kids."

It's a problem as familiar as it is disturbing. Tragedy strikes — be it a natural disaster, a gunman's rampage or a terrorist attack — and scam artists move in.

It happened after 9/11. It happened after Columbine. It happened after Hurricane Katrina. And after this summer's movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.

Sometimes fraud takes the form of bogus charities asking for donations that never get sent to victims. Natural disasters bring another dimension: Scammers try to get government relief money they're not eligible for.

"It's abominable," said Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, which evaluates the performance of charities. "It's just the lowest kind of thievery."

Noah Pozner's relatives found out about one bogus solicitation when a friend received an email asking for money for the family. Poorly punctuated, directed people to send donations to an address in the Bronx, an address the family had never heard of.

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