In the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, America's charitable nature was fully on display. The horrific stories and images of people injured in the blasts galvanized a wave of financial support from across the country. Unfortunately, quick-thinking fraudsters were already a step ahead, sending emails and setting up social media accounts designed to turn good intentions into personal gain.
The FBI sent out an alert, noting that its Internet Crime Complaint Center had seen indications of fraudulent activity attempting to take advantage of people donating to the Boston cause. The alert mentioned phishing emails, domain name purchases and referenced a Twitter account that had been set up using the Boston Marathon name and logo. While Twitter shut down that account after savvy users noticed it was newly registered and had very few followers, it goes to show that scammers think and act quickly to capitalize on tragedy.
To avoid being duped, learn how to avoid scams that follow in the wake of a disaster-natural or manmade.
• Be skeptical about emails. An email with an account of the bombings, supposedly written by a victim, might be a moving read, but it could also be a scam attempt. If there's a request for donations at the end of the email, ignore it and send funds to a well-known charity instead.
• Research charities. A number of previously unknown charities are likely to pop up in the days following a tragedy. Instead of donating to those organizations on a whim, do a bit of research. Even a cursory Web search can provide details about a charity, but sites like GiveWell.org and GuideStar.org, which list recognized charities, are another great resource.
• Beware of text solicitations. Texts soliciting disaster donations should always be viewed with suspicion. Some might provide links to websites or app downloads that can install malware used in identity theft. Others include a phone number; when users call, they're asked for credit card information, which thieves then use to perpetrate fraud.
Anyone who gives to charity wants their donation to reach the true victims of a disaster. Being wise to scams enables givers to ensure that their donations are going to the right place, all while protecting against fraud and identity theft.