FBI Chicago
Special Agent Siobhan Johnson
(312) 829-1199
November 6, 2023

FBI Chicago Warns of Charity Fraud During Israel-HAMAS Conflict

Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler Jr., special agent in charge of the Chicago Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning the public that criminals are soliciting fraudulent humanitarian donations during the Israel-HAMAS conflict. The FBI has received complaints of legitimate email addresses belonging to Israel-based individuals being hacked or possibly spoofed to solicit donations.

Charity fraud is 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 (FTOs) often establish fake charities using social media platforms to subsidize their operations. Fraudulent solicitations may take the form of a social media post, an email, a cold call, or a crowdfunding website request.

Common red flags indicating possible fraudulent activity may include:

  • Unsolicited emails seeking donations. If looking to fund a charity, visit the website directly rather than clicking on links in emails.
  • “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: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA201123
  • Use the Internal Revenue Service’s website (https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search) to see if the charity you are using is registered.

Charity scams prey on both local communities and vulnerable populations devastated by life-altering catastrophes. FBI Chicago reminds the public that these scams are serious crimes with very real consequences and encourages the public to report violations of federal law via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov) or 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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