Whenever a natural disaster strikes, it often brings out the best in people. Neighbors help neighbors; people from other communities, states and even countries giving their time and money to help those in need.
Then there are those who choose to take advantage of these situations for personal gain. Scammers are increasingly exploiting disasters by passing themselves off as “official” organizations or charities seeking donations. And with the proliferation of technology, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern between a legitimate charity and a fake one, thanks to email phishing.
The FBI estimates that phishing scams cost Americans more than half a billion dollars per year, according to a recent Forbes article, and this number will continue to rise. Phishing scams increased by an eye-popping 2,370 percent between January 2015 and December 2016.
That means we expect to see record-breaking phishing attempts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and others this season. Here’s how you can avoid getting scammed:
Tips to avoid hurricane disaster scams online
It’s important to be suspicious of any online solicitation, including email, posts on social media and crowdfunding campaigns. Scammers have become so sophisticated that it’s difficult to tell if an email or website is legit. The Federal Trade Commission recommends avoiding online solicitations altogether and going directly to an organization’s website to make a donation. You can safely access links to official websites by visiting any of the online resources mentioned below.
Don’t be discouraged, there are plenty of trustworthy charities and organizations — but it’s important to do your homework. There are numerous online resources you can use to check the legitimacy and effectiveness of a charity:
- Charity Navigator — identifies and rates the effectiveness of charities and organizations providing aid to victims of hurricane Harvey.
- Internal Revenue Service tax exemption search tool — find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions or if its status has been revoked.
- GuideStar — provides up-to-date information on non-profit organizations.
- CharityWatch — identifies and rates the effectiveness of charities and organizations and exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.
- BBB Wise Giving Alliance | Give.org — information and accreditation of charities.
- National Association of State Charity Officials — check to see if an organization or charity is registered in a specific state.
How to avoid being phished
According to Brian Cross, a product manager for Rackspace Email, there are a few important steps you can take to avoid becoming a phishing victim:
Never share your personal information. NO reputable company will EVER ask for your personal information in an email. This includes your name, account numbers, usernames and passwords. If you receive an email that asks for any personal information, assume it’s a phishing attempt and try to contact the organization directly about the inquiry. Email is one of the most effective methods scammers use to get your personal information.
Visit websites directly from browsers and bookmarks — not email. Avoid clicking on links within an email even if you think the email is legitimate. While some phishing attempts may provide a link to log in and capture your login credentials, others may also install malware or spyware to collect information stored on your computer. It’s best to avoid this situation altogether.
Get more tips to guard against email phishing.
Additional resources on charitable fraud and scams
National Center for Disaster Fraud: If you suspect an organization or individual may be fraudulent, you can file a report here.
Charity Navigator: Protect Yourself from Online Scams
Federal Trade Commission: Tips on avoiding online scams and safely donating to charities
There are plenty of legitimate charities out there doing good things. Unfortunately, in today’s world of increasing cyber crime, it’s important to remain vigilant when it comes to online scams, especially in the wake of a disaster.
See how Rackspace is helping after Hurricane Harvey.