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Officials warn of scammers after Uvalde tragedy

(UVALDE, Texas) — Whenever tragedy strikes, people around the world often seek out ways to help victims as they watch the news unfold on their screens.

When 19 children and two teachers were killed in a May 24 school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, millions of dollars began to flood into a city with no preexisting plan on how to manage or disperse the donations. That’s when the National Compassion Fund, an organization dedicated to giving 100% of donations to victims of tragedies, stepped in to assist in collecting and distributing the money from the many fundraisers that popped up following the shooting.

Jeff Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund, which has administered funds in a number of other cases, said that many city agencies don’t have a plan for how to manage this kind of influx of money in the case of an emergency. Uvalde was one of them, Susan Anderson, Uvalde director of planning and city development, told ABC News.

This leaves them vulnerable to a host of issues, including scammers trying to take advantage of the tragedy.

“In their emergency management plan, every community has a plan about how to deal with a mass casualty event, but they don’t have something in there about how you deal with these donations,” said Dion. “We know this happens, because it happens every time.”

Anita Busch, co-founder of the National Compassion Fund, said that scammers and the mismanagement of funds by charitable organizations can leave victims with less money in their pockets than was raised. She said VictimsFirst and the National Compassion Fund have clawed back at least $20,000 in donations just by reaching out to people who had raised money in the name of Uvalde and questioning them about their fundraising activities.

“We call them up and we say ‘we understand you collected funds, and where are those funds? Where did you donate those funds? How much did you collect?"” Busch said. “For the most part, people are pretty good. But there’s like four or five that I’ll be turning into the Attorney General’s office because their numbers are suddenly non-existent or the account is suddenly non-existent.”

“In some mass shootings, where there were fundraisers, people didn’t see even a penny of it,” said Busch referring to instances of scams in Newtown, Connecticut, the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting, and more where scammers have taken advantage of the chaos.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton put out a warning against scammers within just a few days of the Uvalde school shooting.

A spokesperson for his office said they have not heard of any official reports or complaints out of Uvalde themselves, but urged people who may be aware of such scams to report them to the Attorney General’s office by calling 1-800-621-0508 or filing an online complaint.

It urges donors to give via established charitable funding platforms that verify legitimate fundraisers and remove fundraisers that are misleading or false.

His office also urges donors to research organizations on Charity Watch, or Guidestar, which gathers data on millions of IRS-recognized non-profits.

“Texans have come together in the wake of the tragic killings at Robb Elementary, to comfort and aid one another in this time of unspeakable grief,” said Paxton in a May press release.

He added, “Unfortunately, there are some individuals who may try to take advantage of tragedy to perpetrate scams. We caution all charitable givers to be aware and informed, and we warn any would-be scammers that the Texas Attorney General will not tolerate anyone taking advantage of the goodwill and large-heartedness of our fellow Texans.”  

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