Natural disasters often bring out the best in people, especially those who volunteer to clean up or make donations to help victims. But, unexpected catastrophes can bring out the worst in people who think they can benefit from someone else’s misfortune. An OzarksFirst.com article shows how one man’s twisted decision to file a false disaster claim didn’t reap the benefit he was expecting.

The article explains that a 53-year-old man filed for disaster relief several days after a catastrophic tornado struck Joplin on May 22, 2011. The claim stated that his area residence had sustained damage from the twister, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized a payment of nearly $1,200. It turns out that the man was not living at the address given at the time of the tornado’s impact and had actually moved out several months prior.

The fraudster pleaded guilty in federal court to fraudulently receiving federal disaster benefits and faces a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, a fine of up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. (Now was that false claim for nearly $1,200 really worth up to 30 years in jail?)

In the aftermath of natural disasters, some people are looking for easy ways to make a buck, but many people feel compelled to contribute to victim assistance organizations. It is important to avoid another type of disaster fraud and be wary of anyone soliciting donations on behalf of victims via e-mail, websites, door-to-door, direct mail and telephone calls. Before making any donation, make sure you verify that the organization is valid. Be skeptical of individuals who claim to be surviving victims of the
disaster. Remember that reputable charities do not use coercive tactics, so do not be pressured into making a contribution if you are not familiar with the solicitor or the organization. Don’t give out your personal or financial information and avoid cash donations. And, if you write a check, make sure it is written to the organization and not to a person.

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