Scammers love a natural disaster, because people are so willing to give and help others recover from the damages of a natural disaster, that they don't do their due-diligence to vet the request for help. Hurricane Florence hasn't even fully left the east coast, and fraudsters have already started to put their scams in motion.
The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) is warning all users to be prepared for and remain vigilant against cyber activity and non-cyber activity that will exploit the interest we have in helping Hurricane Florence victims.
Watch out for the following natural disaster scams:
- Fraudulent emails soliciting help. These may lead to malicious websites. Be careful with all emails with subject lines, attachments or links referring to the hurricane, even if these appear to come from a legitimate source.
- Social Media pleas. You can expect many pop-up charities/collections following a disaster. Watch out for those soliciting money and dubious ways of collecting the donations, such as cash, gift card or wire transfer.
- Calls asking for donations. Voice call scams are nothing new. Remember, Caller IDs can be faked to make it look like calls come from a particular area. They might even act like you have given before.
- Texts prompting you to give. Text message scams can be particularly dangerous, as they usually only contain a small amount of information and a link. That link, however, can lead to a malicious website that can infect your device. Best not to follow any link.
- Donation Websites. Scam websites can be set up quickly and are designed to take money and collect card information. They can also be dangerous in that they inject images and documents with malicious code to steal information, infect your device and possibly even control it.
- Door to door solicitations. Nothing provides pressure like a face to face request. Despite the emotional pleas, DO NOT invite them in. Ask for information at the doorstep, and then do your research. You may also choose to just not answer the door.
How Should You Give?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put together an article on "How to donate wisely and avoid charity scams."
- Do your research. Searching online for charity reputations, using words like complaints, review or rating, can save you from making a mistake.
- Use reputable organizations to see how donations are used by charities. The following are known to be helpful.
- Payment type matters. Any requests for cash, gift card and wiring money should be red flags for scams. Paying by credit card or check at least give you a record. If you pay through an online portal, make sure you know how money will be used and also what personal information may be shared.
- Watch out for common tricks. The following are red flags and may tip you off to a scam.
- Trying to rush you
- Thanking you for a donation you never made
- Calling you from an area code that matches your phone number, trying to appear local
- Using a charity name that sounds similar to another larger one or one that sounds official
- Sentimental pleas with no real details about how donations will be used
- Prize or sweepstakes claims if you donate
If you encounter a charity scam, make sure you report it to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. You should also report it to your state charity regulator at nasconet.org