Law enforcement agencies are not playing when it comes to Hurricane Harvey-related scams.
The Department of Justice has formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to the catastrophic weather event. The working group includes representatives from the US Attorney's Office, the National Center for Disaster Fraud, Texas Attorney General's Office, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a number of other federal and state law enforcement agencies.
Authorities have already been receiving calls about Hurricane Harvey-related scams, but DOJ did not specify the nature of the criminal activity taking place.
"As we all work to rebuild the Houston/Gulf Coast region and look for ways to help, it's important to perform due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide assistance to those affected by Harvey, whether the solicitations are in person, via email, or telephone," FBI Special Agent Perrye K. Turner said in a statement. "The FBI is dedicated to investigating and preventing this type of fraud, especially when it involves preying on individuals during times of great need."
This new initiative follows a warning from the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) about possible Hurricane Harvey-related phishing attacks.
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"Users are advised to exercise caution in handling any email with subject line, attachments, or hyperlinks related to Hurricane Harvey, even if it appears to originate from a trusted source," the US-CERT wrote in a Monday advisory. "Fraudulent emails will often contain links or attachments that direct users to phishing or malware-infected websites. Emails requesting donations from duplicitous charitable organizations commonly appear after major natural disasters."
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission, which is also participating in the new working group, this week urged users to be cautious about charity scams when donating to help Hurricane Harvey victims. Be sure to check out our article on how you can help Hurricane Harvey victims, even if you're thousands of miles away.
If you encounter what appears to be a Hurricane Harvey-related scam, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which was set up by DOJ following Hurricane Katrina. A team of law enforcement agents will review those reports and refer individuals to the appropriate investigative agencies.