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Beware of Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

One thing about natural disasters: They bring out the best—and the worst—in people.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding, aid has been pouring in to Texas. Dozens of disaster relief organizations either have or are arranging for staff to be present to assist the people and animals left homeless by Harvey. Not only that, but area residents are helping one another, too.

Unfortunately, though, there are always people who will take advantage of our desire to help the victims of natural disasters. Scammers are now using the Hurricane Harvey disaster to trick people into clicking links, both on Facebook and Twitter, and through phishing emails trying to solicit charitable giving for flood victims. Here are some examples provided by KnowBe4’s Security Awareness Training Blog:

  • Facebook pages dedicated to victim relief that contain links to scam websites.
  • Tweets are going out with links to charitable websites soliciting donations, but in reality they include spam links or links that lead to a malware infection.
  • Phishing emails appearing in users’ inboxes asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Fund.

KnowBe4 suggests that you send employees, friends, and family an email about this scam of the week. Here’s their suggested text:

“Heads-up! Bad guys are exploiting the Hurricane Harvey disaster. There are fake Facebook pages, tweets are going out with fake charity websites, and phishing emails are sent out asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Funds.

Don’t fall for any scams. If you want to make a donation, go to the website of the charity of your choice and make a donation. Type the address in your browser or use a bookmark. Do not click on any links in emails or text you might get. Whatever you see in the coming weeks about Hurricane Harvey disaster relief… THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK.

So, what do you do if you want to make a donation and be sure your money is going to a legit organization and your credit card information isn’t going to be hijacked by scammers? Consumerist recommends the following:

  • Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser.
  • Call the charity directly. Fiind out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.
  • Trust your gut and check your records. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight. This is especially true after natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
  • Watch out for similar-sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Do not send or give cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security or tax records, it’s best to pay by credit card—BUT look for indicators that the site is secure like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https” (the S stands for “secure”).
  • Check charity review websites. Sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar to see if the organization is listed as a 501(c)(3) charity and that the site indicates it to be a trustworthy charity.
  • Report scam charities. We’ve got some tips for how to do that here.

So, who should you donate to? At this point, organizations that are meeting basic needs like food, fresh water, and shelter should be priorities. Some organizations you can consider include:

Photo: Houston, Texas, flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This isn’t even the worst of it. Credit: michelmond /