It’s an unfortunate reality, but the online and offline world is teeming with fraudulent organizations claiming to be raising funds for a variety of charitable causes. And with the prevalence of social media and electronic communication, online scammers do their best to play on the heartstrings of unsuspecting individuals.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center has observed spikes in charitable fraud specifically during holiday seasons and after major disasters. With the recent tornadoes hitting the Midwest, Internet users should be extra aware of scams soliciting money. Scammers often impersonate known charities or create fraudulent organizations claiming to offer aid to the victims of the event, hoping to capitalize on the altruistic nature of people around the country and the globe. For example, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, of the 4,000 websites set up to assist victims in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, up to 60 percent were thought to be bogus.
How to Spot a Scam Charity
In some cases, it’s hard to distinguish what’s real and what’s not. Some fraudulent organizations will use names that closely resemble those of legitimate organizations. To gain donations, they will also send out spam messages via email or social media, or trigger popup ads.
In addition to soliciting money, phishing emails can also trick you into giving away your personal information, usernames, passwords, financial info, etc., all of which can be used for identity theft.
Hackers also use a technique called SEO poisoning to trick users. Knowing that most people get their news online, hackers create websites that are infected with malware and manipulate search rankings so that they are the first sites that pop up when you search certain keywords (such as “hurricane relief” or “Japan disaster”). Clicking on these links deploys malware, which can make your computer part of a botnet or siphon information to the hacker.
What to Do When You Want to Give
- Do not respond or open attachments from unsolicited emails claiming to be from charitable organizations.
- Donate directly through the organization’s website. Do not follow links from emails to donation sites or allow an individual or third-party organization to make the donation on your behalf.
- Do not send cash, money order, or wire transfers.
- Contact the charity directly to authenticate the fundraiser (use a local or nationally recognized phone number, not the phone number listed in the email).
- Validate the charity through sites like Give.org or the Better Business Bureau, especially if the soliciting organization has a name similar to that of a well-recognized organization.
- Never divulge personal information such as your social security number.
- Take notice of the organization’s web address. Most legitimate non-profit organizations end in .org, not .com.
- Be wary of solicitations from those claiming to be surviving victims of a well-publicized disaster.
Internet criminals are smart. Being educated about their tactics can help prevent you from being scammed. However, despite all the precautions, it is possible to fall victim. If you believe you have been targeted by an Internet scam artist, contact the IC3 to file a complaint.