Like so many other tragedies, the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., is attracting those who try to cash in by scamming generous people. Some put on elaborate acts.
The most recent is Nouel Alba, a 37-year-old New Yorker arrested by the FBI and charged with pretending to be the aunt of one of the 20 young victims and seeking donations through PayPal, the Hartford Courant
reports. She is also charged with lying to a federal agent during questioning.
The Bronx woman was released after posting $50,000 bail. She covered her head and face with her coat as she ran from the courthouse in downtown Hartford on Thursday. Other than denying any wrongdoing, she declined to speak to reporters.
"This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from this tragedy by contriving fraudulent schemes that exploit the many victims, their families, and individuals who sincerely want to help," said U.S. Attorney David Fein at a press conference.
reports Alba took to Facebook hours after the shooting, claiming to be the aunt of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old victim. She asked friends on the social networking site to help her pay for the funeral.
During the investigation Alba said she never posted the solicitation to her Facebook page or posed as a relative, according to the complaint. She said someone else posted the request to her page and that she refunded the donors' money, which the U.S. Attorney's Office said is false.
If convicted of making false statements to federal agents, Alba faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
One donor asked Alba if she watched President Barack Obama's speech in person when he visited Connecticut. According to the complaint, she responded through text message: "No, I'm sitting in my car. Emotionally, I can't deal with it right now. Tomorrow I'll see [Noah] in a casket and that will be hard enough to handle," according to the criminal complaint.
The federal complaint also says Alba claimed to have gone to the Sandy Hook Elementary, School, the scene of the mass shooting, to identify her nephew to law enforcement officials. In fact, no family members were permitted in the school.
Alexis Haller, the uncle of Noah Pozner, said Alba is not related to the family and never gave the family any of the funds raised, according to NBC Connecticut. Haller called people like Alba "despicable."
"These scammers are taking away from families and the spirits of dead kids," Haller told USA Today.
Kimberly K. Mertz, the FBI special agent in charge of the New Haven division of the FBI, expressed her disgust to the Courant.
"It's unconscionable to think that the families of the victims in Newtown, and a sympathetic community looking to provide them some of sort of financial support and comfort, have become the targets of criminals," she said.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen is advising people to be careful and avoid phone and e-mail solicitations, as well as those posted on Facebook, according to NBC Connecticut.
"This is a time of mourning for the people of Newtown and for our entire state," Jepsen said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it's also a time when bad actors may seek to exploit those coping with this tragedy."
Jepsen's office has fielded a couple of complaints about fundraising on behalf of Sandy Hook victims, according to spokeswoman Susan Kinsman, but she said those probably can't be called fraudulent schemes just yet. The complaints have been referred to the Department of Consumer Protection Affairs, according to The Courant.
The government set up the National Center for Disaster Fraud in the wake of scams surrounding Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, in which people asked for money to rebuild houses they never lived in.
After the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., one woman tried to profit off the plight of a little girl name Kadence, whose mother died in the shooting. Police said the child was imaginary.
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