Natural Disasters Bring out the Worst in Scammers

August 29, 2017

Natural Disasters Bring out the Worst in Scammers   In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many people are looking for ways they can help the thousands of victims affected by the storm and ensuing floods. Most people don’t have the resources to fill and drive a truck of supplies or the emergency training to help rescue people from flooded homes, so they donate money, assuming the organization receiving the funds will use or distribute them as needed. Scammers know this as well, and they are not above taking advantage of a natural disaster to obtain funds from these well-meaning individuals. In this worst case scenario, those donating to fake charities have lost money, and the individuals they intended to help won’t see any relief from those donations, making them victims all over again. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued advice for those who want to help Hurricane Harvey victims and make sure their donations are being used as intended. One way to ensure this is to give to well-established organizations and designate that your donation is to go toward the specific disaster relief fund. Many celebrities have encouraged donations to organizations such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army; others have set up legitimate foundations or crowdfunding campaigns to assist Hurricane Harvey victims. These may be spoofed by scammers establishing similar URLs; if you see a link that claims to be related to any of these celebrity campaigns, carefully verify the address before donating. Be wary of any charity links posted on social media; while some may be valid and well-intended, scammers often set up event-triggered “charities” to lure donations. If you have any doubt about any organization, the FTC suggests a few resources that can validate a charitable organization. This is good advice for anyone considering making a donation at any time; we all want to make sure our money is used as we intended. As the waters recede and area residents begin to rebuild, scammers will move in again, this time taking money from victims who may unknowingly hire them to help clean up or repair their damaged homes. Documents lost in the hurricane and ensuing flood can wind up in the hands of someone who will use a victim’s personal information to obtain fraudulent credit or disaster relief assistance. Even those well outside of the disaster area may be taken advantage of if they unknowingly purchase a flood-damaged vehicle that ends up in the used car market. At a time when most people want to help in some small way, it’s easy to forget that there are those who will take advantage of a situation and make it even worse for others. Don’t let these bad characters prevent you from reaching out and helping as you can; just be aware and be careful so you don’t become a victim as well.