Rossen Reports

Scammers try to exploit Connecticut shooting

Dec. 21, 2012 at 10:36 AM ET

On Dec. 21, TODAY aired a Rossen Reports investigation about an alleged scam to exploit the tragic Connecticut school shooting, in which Nouel Alba denied soliciting donations on Facebook "in memory" of 6-year-old shooting victim Noah Pozner while posing as his aunt. On Dec. 27, Alba was arrested in the Bronx by the FBI.

The families in the Connecticut school shooting are grieving the worst possible loss... their children. Now the family of 6-year-old Noah Pozner says scammers are trying to make money off their son's death, collecting donations online while posing as relatives.

The parents of Noah Pozner laid their son to rest this week. The grief was still raw when, Noah's uncle said, a scammer victimized them again.

"I'm disgusted by it," Alexis Haller said. "I think it's disgusting behavior."

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Within an hour of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, a woman posing as Noah's aunt took to Facebook: "All we know is 18 kids have been killed...still no word on my nephew."

Then, days later, she went after money. "We've set up a funeral fund for my brother...." she posted. "Anyone willing to make a donation can make one...."

Through her personal PayPal account, that is. She even gave out her bank account information and routing number.

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"Is this person related to you?" we asked Alexis Haller.

"No."

"Do you know who this person is?"

"No."

"Have you seen a single dime from any money raised?"

"No, absolutely not."

"What do you make of that?"

"It's trying to turn a profit on a horrible tragedy, on the death of kids, 6-year-old kids, 7-year-old kids. And to me, that's just a horrible thing to be doing."

We tracked those bogus postings to the Facebook account of Nouel Alba in the Bronx. We paid her a visit. She wouldn't allow our cameras inside, but allowed me to record her audio.

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"Did you send this message over Facebook?"

"No, I never sent any message on Facebook."

"Then why is your account number on it, your bank routing number, your email, and your PayPal information?"

"Because I sell things online," Nouel told us.

"Because you sell things online? But then why were you posing to be a member of the Pozner family? They say they've never met you before."

"I never did that."

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Nouel claims someone else posted it using her account, even though Nouel got the donation money -- which, she says, she refunded.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen called it a warning for all of us. "It sickens me," he said. "They're despicable."

"A lot of people do want to donate to these families," we said. "What red flags should they be looking out for?"

"They should avoid telephone solicitations, email solicitations, because you can't really trace where it comes from."

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"Facebook?" we asked.

"Facebook solicitations," Jepsen agreed. "And you should check out the charity."

Noah Pozner's family learned another lesson too. After the shooting, someone snatched up the domain name NoahPozner.com. It is not clear what the intent was. Noah's family has since gotten it back and set up their own official website; all donations will go to Noah's surviving sisters.

"What's your message to the people who've done this?" we asked Alexis Haller.

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"My message is that you've really hurt the family of a little boy who died in this tragedy," he said.

Officials say it happens after every big tragedy and disaster: Columbine, Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado movie theater shooting, and now this. In fact, the fraud is such a problem that the federal government has set up a special agency to track complaints and investigate.

The bottom line: Donating to the victims' families is a wonderful gesture -- but make sure to take time and check out who you're really giving money to.

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