As the first major hurricane of the season batters parts of the Caribbean and southeastern U.S., those affected already have so much to worry about from the safety of themselves and loved ones, to their property. But unfortunately, that's not all they might have to deal with.
As happens after every natural disaster, people are eager to help victims. Unfortunately, disasters also bring out scammers.
Scams proliferate on Facebook, email and crowd-funding sites. We'll tell you how to recognize these scams and find safe outlets for your donations.
Disaster-related charity scams
After hurricanes Michael and Florence struck the U.S. last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported that it saw an increase in complaints about sham charity activities. The FTC warns people to evaluate charities closely before giving them any support.
That brings us to how to spot a real charity from a fake one. This one is on you to research. A good way to do that is to search for the charity's name, plus "scam" and "complaints." That will help weed out many scammers.
If you get an email that looks likes it's an official one from a major charity group such as the American Red Cross or the United Way, don't click anything on the email. Go directly to those organizations to find out how they are really accepting donations.
For example, the American Red Cross' website has a page where you can donate money. Not only can you donate, but you also get to pick where you want the money to go.
The FTC has links to sites such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar. These sites will help you find legitimate charities to make sure your money is going to the people who need it most and not into scam artists' pockets.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, always be careful when you're asked to give money through the internet, especially via email, as phishing emails are an extremely popular technique for cybercriminals. You will most likely see phishing emails claiming to be from pet shelters, a church or another organization trying to raise money for hurricane victims. Do not click on any links in such emails.
Not only are you risking malware infecting your computer, but you also may be sent to a spoof site. Instead, on your browser type the URL of the organization asking for money so you can make sure you are on the legitimate site.
Can you recognize a phishing scam? Click here to take our phishing IQ test.
Also, beware of GoFundMe and Facebook Fundraiser campaigns. Never give money to people you don't know. If you know the person or are familiar with the person, call them and find out if the fundraiser is real.
Finally, remember that well-known charities and government organizations will not set up GoFundMe sites.
Facebook hurricane scams
Facebook is the go-to site for scammers following a natural disaster. Scammers will create fake Facebook pages that make emotional pleas for you to send money to help storm victims.
The scammers will go to great lengths to make the page seem real. Don't fall for it.
Scammers will clone real users' Facebook accounts so they can ask their friends to send them money. If you see this from one of your friends, call them to verify that it's actually them. It's a good rule of thumb to never click a link through Facebook or any social media site to send money.
Then there's like-farming in which scammers try to lure users into liking and sharing their newsfeed posts in order to to get more eyeballs. This gives the scammer more viewers for posts that will trick people out of information or send them to malicious download sites.
When tragedy strikes it brings out the best and worst in people. Yes, there are scams out there on the internet that prey on disaster victims, but by taking a few minutes to research a charity you can make sure your donations really help those in distress.
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