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Amid Connecticut tragedy, scam artists creep in


08:37 AM December 20th, 2012

By: Christina Rexrode, Robert Ray, December 20th, 2012 08:37 AM

The word “HOPE” is illuminated on the front lawn of a funeral home hosting the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung in Woodbury, Conn., Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Hochsprung was killed when Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. AP/Charles Krupa

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

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 stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy.”

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, Colorado.

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, it gave details about Noah, his funeral and his family. It directed people to send donations to an address that the Pozners had never heard of.

It listed a New York City phone number to text with questions about how to donate. When a reporter texted that number Wednesday, a reply came advising the donation go to the United Way.

The Pozner family had the website transferred to its ownership. Victoria Haller, Noah’s aunt, emailed the person who had originally registered the name. The person, who went by the name Jason Martin, wrote back that he’d meant “to somehow honor Noah and help promote a safer gun culture. I had no ill intentions I assure you.”

Alexis Haller said the experience “should serve as a warning signal to other victims’ families. We urge people to watch out for these frauds on social media sites.”

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