It's hurricane season and it seems that every year a scourge of relief scams ride in with the storm surge. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ivan, and even the tsunamis of Asia in 2005 proved that there will always be some criminals who seek to profit from disaster by scamming both those hit by the hurricane and the kind-hearted donors who want to help.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported seeing an increase in websites soliciting for charitable donations to aid hurricane survivors. According to Computerworld, nearly 100 domain names related to Hurricane Gustav were registered well before the hurricane hit our shores. Some of those domains were probably intended for use as bogus charity and relief scams.
Many, if not all, of the unsolicited emails in your inbox asking for donations are scams. Some of them look pretty authentic or can move you to tears, but you can protect yourself from all of them by following these simple tips.
- Don't respond to spam emails or click on any links or pictures in spam emails.
- Be skeptical of individuals soliciting donations via email, no matter how official the email might seem.
- Don't provide your personal information to someone soliciting contributions.
- Make donations directly to recognized organizations, not through a third party. Type in the site yourself—rather than using a link in an email—and make sure you're using a secure connection (look for "https" in the address bar).
Con artists don't only target donors though. Some will stoop so low as to scam people who have been affected by the disaster, too. Scammers have claimed to represent government agencies, banks, and credit card companies. Some scammers pose as contractors offering to do immediate repair work to damaged homes—and then never show up to do the work. Even some legitimate contractors engage in price gouging, since there is so much repair work to be done and so few contractors available. Other con artists will email disaster victims promising them big winnings in a sweepstakes or lotteries if they send in payments for taxes or other fees or their bank account number. The worst con? Fee-based spam messages that offer to locate loved ones who are lost in the wake of a hurricane or other disaster. Disaster victims need to be vigilant in a time that can stressful and difficult.
If you receive a scam email, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Scambusters.org has put together a list of some of the most common hurricane scams. Have you come across any others?