Hurricane Harvey, a category four storm, overwhelmed the Houston area with heavy rainstorms. As a result, many residents had to escape severe flooding in their homes and neighborhoods. Most of the residents evacuated the flooding areas, but over forty people (and counting) lost their lives. As we witness their stories in the news, many Americans want to help fellow humans in need.
Sadly, you must watch out for opportunistic cybercriminals trying to make a profit from Hurricane Harvey. They will send out messages pretending to be a charity collecting donations for the disaster victims. These fake charities will pocket the proceeds for themselves and send nothing to the victims. These cybercriminals manipulate their targets into sending money by exploiting their sympathetic feelings for the Hurricane Harvey victims.
How do cyber scammers promote their fake charities?
- Email: The cyber scammers send out emails pretending to be from legitimate charities, such as the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Then, the email will either instruct users to open an attachment coded with malware or click on a link to a phony charity portal that steals credit card information.
- Social Media: On Facebook, cyber scammers are creating bogus charity profiles and then soliciting donations from there. Also on Twitter, bots are tweeting links to malicious impersonated portals.
How can you protect yourself from charity scams?
- Realize that scams will pop up with every major event, such as a natural disaster, worldwide news story, and holidays. For cybercriminals, each event is a shameless opportunity to manipulate people into sending them money. They have little to no remorse for stealing funds away from those in a crisis.
- Be cautious regarding Hurricane Harvey-related emails, links, and attachments, even if it appears to be from someone you know. A hacker might have compromised that contact.
- Keep device and anti-virus software up to date, and then run scans regularly.
- You can report scam emails by forwarding them to the Federal Trade Commission at email@example.com.
How can you ensure your contribution goes to Hurricane Harvey victims?
- Research the organizations you are considering donating to. You can cross-check the charity with Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the National Association of State Charity Officials.
- If a charity is soliciting donations through Facebook, look at its profile. If the page was recently set up and only has a few followers, move on to a different charity.
- Submit donations directly to the charity’s website. For example, if you get an unsolicited phone call or email from someone claiming to be from a legitimate charity, go to the website instead to donate.
- Do not give donations in cash or by wire. There is no way to get the money back if it turns out to be a scam. Donate by check or credit card so there is a digital paper trail of the transaction.
- If you suspect a fake charity scammed you, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at (866) 720-5721. Also, report the charge to your bank or credit card company.