There’s no way to avoid the tsunami of disaster relief scams coming in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. One could be in your inbox right now. Deeply offensive but predictable, thieves are eager to capitalize on the desire of many Americans to assist natural disaster victims.
Thieves have crawled out of the woodwork after every major disaster in recent years. Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake of 2011, and the 2015 Nepal quakes unleashed their share of scams. After the Boston Marathon bombings, several anti-virus companies reported a deluge of spam referencing the attacks within hours of the event. Junk emails featured headlines like “Latest Videos from Boston Disaster.” These phishing emails were designed to hook the curious and the concerned. Data security experts detected sizeable malware risks in some of the content and marveled at the speed of toxic spam.
“The sick truth is that malware authors and malicious hackers lose no sleep about exploiting the deaths of innocent people in their attempt to infect computers for the purposes of stealing money, resources and identities,” security author Graham Cluley wrote for Sophos Labs and nakedsecurity.com in the wake of the Boston tragedy.
There are two major efforts to expect—those that target victims and those that pursue people eager to lend a hand. Harvey victims found themselves in the crosshairs first.
Victims Beware: Storm Chasing Scammers Abound
In the hours after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Texans started receiving robocalls claiming their flood insurance premium was overdue. “Pay up now or it won’t cover your losses” they were told. Those calls were bogus, but it’s likely that some desperate property owners took the bait.
Other scams will arrive via phone call or email. Look beneath the surface, and you’ll find an elaborate effort to separate you from your money.
“Scammers sometimes pose as government officials, and ask for your financial information or money to apply for aid that you can request on your own for free,” FTC experts cautioned. “Government officials will never ask you for money in exchange for information or the promise of a check.”
Victims of the two recent hurricanes should be on guard throughout the entire recovery process. Storm chasing scammers are expected to flock into decimated areas with offers from immediate cleanup to major repairs. The FTC urges homeowners to go slow as they recruit a team of contractors. It’s essential to read the fine print before you sign, and make sure you get a firm price.
Give Wisely: Solicitations and Crowdfunding Pleas Can Be Hard to Validate
While some fake relief efforts target victims, the pool of altruistic Americans is larger and therefore likely to be the bigger target. That’s why charity scams could become prevalent too.
Often the goal is to trick you into clicking on an email link that promises news about the disaster or ways you can help. Avoid clicking any links and navigate directly to charity websites yourself.
During the brief respite between the hours Harvey and Irma made landfall, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned generous citizens to guard their cash donations. There are numerous organizations you can use to check out a charity before you donate. The list includes:
There are dozens of opportunities to give wisely. The FTC has a charity checklist you can use. Research is the best method to guarantee that your money gets to those who need it, instead of lining the pockets of crooks.
If you want your funds to go to a specific relief effort, make sure the charity will allow you to designate where your dollars go.
If you’re approached for donations or asked to contribute to a crowdfunding effort, ID Watchdog urges an extra layer of caution. It can be difficult to impossible to verify the legitimacy of these efforts.