CHAMPAIGN - Champaign-area computer security researcher and digital forensics specialist John Bambenek is warning people to be careful with who they give donations to in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
"Since the shooting, over 150 websites have been put up with the purpose of exploiting the charitable intent of Americans and to line their own pockets. People need to be aware whenever a major tragedy like this occurs, there are those who will look to defraud posing as a charity to help the victims," said Bambenek.
Some examples of suspect websites include: hopefornewtown.com, newtownchildrensfund.com, helpnewtownfamilies.com, and sandyhookelementaryshootingdonations.org.
"The usual turnaround for the IRS to grant someone tax-exempt status (in effect, to be legally a charity) is almost 18 months in some cases. If you haven't heard of a charitable group before, it probably isn't legit. If it is a charity with a name involving a tragedy only a few days ago, it probably isn't legit. Those wishing to give should stick to known organizations such as the Red Cross or organizations they have an already personal relationship with. Never click on a link to donate to an event, always go to an organization directly," warned Bambenek.
The IRS has published a tool to verify the tax-exempt status of any organization which consumers can use to protect themselves. That tool is available at: http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Search-for-Charities. Many states also have their own registries. Additionally, groups like guidestar.org can provide additional information on the credibility of a charity.
Additionally, consumers can do a WHOIS search on new domains. If the search shows a "private registration" they should be wary of donating on that website. A WHOIS search can be done on websites like this: http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp.
John Bambenek is President and Chief Forensic Examiner for Bambenek Consulting, a cybersecurity investigation firm located in Champaign and he is an Incident Handler for the SANS Internet Storm Center, a global information security research group. He is an expert in the field of computer crime research and digital forensics and has given lectures around the country on the subject.