June 1 is the official start of hurricane season, so we want to remind you to watch out for natural-disaster-related scams. You know what happens when tragedy strikes — it brings out the best and worst of humankind.
In fact, any time there is big news — good or bad — it’s fodder for crooks who prey on our compassionate sides, like when the U.K. royal family has a new baby or a world-famous landmark in Paris caught fire.
During natural disasters, the internet is rife with scams, and the most popular playgrounds are Facebook, email, and crowd-funding sites. We’ll tell you how to recognize these scams and find safe outlets for your donations.
Facebook hurricane scams
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 also clone real users’ Facebook accounts so they can ask their friends to please send them money. If you see this from one of your friends, take the time to personally call them to verify that it’s actually them. It’s a good rule of thumb to never click a link through Facebook or social media to send money.
Then there’s “like” farming, where 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.
Disaster-related charity scams
Always, always be careful when you’re asked to give money through the internet, especially via email.
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. Can you recognize a phishing scam?
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, again 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. These are well-oiled machines that have official giving sites.
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; either to victims of a natural disaster, your local Red Cross or wherever the money is needed most.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has links to sites such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar to help make sure your money is going to the people who needed it most and not into scam artists’ pockets.