Authorities warn of ‘Hurricane Harvey’ charity scammers. Which organizations can you trust?

Finger at "SCAM ALERT" On Keyboard Button | Photo by tuan_azizi, Getty Images, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert earlier this week urging consumers to be on the lookout for a potential surge in charity scams and websites that have sprung up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

U.S. federal agencies are warning citizens to be especially wary of telephone, computer and email scams, as there are scam artists who present fake charities and sham relief efforts in an effort to capitalize on the public’s eagerness to help those affected by the ongoing disaster.

A police officer checks an abandoned vehicle as the last of Hurricane Harvey passes the area, Rockport, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017 | AP Photo by Eric Gay, St. George News

“It’s heartbreaking to see people lose their lives, homes, and businesses to the ongoing flooding in Texas,” Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist with the Federal Trade Commission said in Monday’s statement, “But it’s despicable when scammers exploit such tragedies to appeal to your sense of generosity.”

U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or CERT, a cyber security arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also issued a statement this week warning consumers and computer users “to remain vigilant for malicious cyber activity seeking to capitalize on interest in Hurricane Harvey,” the statement said.

The statement advised using caution when handling any emails with “subject line, attachments, or hyperlinks related to Hurricane Harvey, even if it appears to originate from a trusted source.”

These types of fraudulent emails can contain links or attachments that direct the user to sites infected with phishing software or malware. Such emails requesting donations commonly appear right after natural disasters. Others that claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities in order to con people into sending money or providing personal financial information that can be used to steal identities or financial resources, the CERT statement said.

The roof of a gas station sits in flood waters in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Rockport, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017 | AP Photo by Eric Gay, St. George News

Malware administrators frequently use natural disasters and other breaking news items to trick people into clicking on malicious links or opening booby trapped email attachments.

Brian Krebs, a security specialist, said to be on the lookout for charities or relief web sites that appear to have sprung up overnight in response to current events, such as houstonfloodrelief.net, which was first registered Aug. 28.

“Sometimes these sites are set up by well-meaning people with the best of intentions, however misguided,” Krebs said in the statement, “but it’s best not to take a chance.”

In order to make sure contributions and aid dollars go directly to those who need it most, the victims of Hurricane Harvey as opposed to scam artists, the Federal Trade Commission has released information to help consumers.

FTC Tips for charity giving

  • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
  • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it, or you could unknowingly install malware on your computer.
  • Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
  • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. If they should be registered, but they’re not, consider donating to another charity.

The FTC suggests investigating a charity before giving at Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity NavigatorCharity Watch or GuideStar.

The Internal Revenue Service points out that these fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, email or in-person solicitation. The agency’s website has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, to find qualified charities which are tax-deductible.

Ways to help in Southern Utah

The American Red Cross of Utah is accepting donations for Hurricane Harvey victims. Donations, volunteer opportunities and free disaster preparedness and response training in Utah can be arranged at www.redcross.org/local/utah or by calling 801-323-7000.

LDS Charities is the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has provided assistance to millions of people in 189 countries. For information on relief efforts, volunteering or donations, go to LDS Charities.

The Salvation Army is accepting donations for Hurricane Harvey at Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts and offering volunteer opportunities at Become a Volunteer.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • knobe September 4, 2017 at 7:26 am

    What about the Cajun Navy ?
    I donated to them . . .
    Is the website for them really or a faux one ?

    • knobe September 4, 2017 at 10:54 am

      typo – a real / legit one ( not really ) , , , my bad .
      Is the website for them a real / legit or a faux one .

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