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Disaster scams are a type of fraud that takes advantage of people’s fear and desperation during times of crisis, such as natural disasters or pandemics. These scams can come in many forms, such as fake charities, phishing emails, or even fake news.

Spot and Avoid Scams

The following tips are ways to spot and avoid disaster scams:

Be wary of unsolicited emails or messages. Scammers often send out unsolicited emails or messages that claim to be from a legitimate organization, such as a charity or government agency. Be cautious of any message that you did not first inquire about. Scam messages may have a few telltale signs. A communication may be a phishing scam if they do any of the following:

  • Ask for personal information or financial donations.
  • Include an invoice for an unauthorized repair or service.
  • Claim you are eligible for a government refund.

Don’t respond to pressure tactics. Scammers often use pressure tactics to try to get you to act quickly. They may claim that donations are needed urgently, or that services or discounts are limited time offers. Don’t be swayed by these tactics. Take the time to research and verify any requests before acting.

Research the organization. Before making any donations or giving out personal information, research the organization online. Start by checking the charity website. If it lacks detailed information about the impacts, outcomes, or leadership person, it might be a scam. Use search engines to look for reviews and ratings from previous donors. Check to see if the organization is registered with a legitimate charity watchdog organization, better business bureau, or attorney general. Some states require charities to register with a state entity. The National Association of State Charity Officials maintains a list of the entities by state at nasconet.org/.

Verify the information. If you receive an email or message that claims to be from a legitimate organization, verify the information with the organization directly. Contact them through their official website or phone number to confirm that the message is legitimate. If you find that the organization has no knowledge of the request, you can report the potential scam to the following entities:

Use secure payment methods. When making donations or payments, use secure payment methods, such as credit cards or PayPal. Avoid giving or sending cash, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards. These methods are more difficult to trace and can be easily intercepted by a scammer. Any charity that only allows these later forms of untraceable donations is likely a scam.

If using an online link to donate, be sure the website has https at the beginning of the Uniform Resource Locators (URL). The https is an indicator that the information is encrypted and will transport safely across the Internet. However, still research the organization first. The encryption alone is not a good indicator that the site isn’t a scam. After making a donation, be sure to check your financial statements to ensure the correct amount was charged and that there are no unauthorized reoccurring charges.

Be wary of fake news. During times of crisis, there may be a lot of fake news or inaccurate stories circulating online. Disseminating false information can place people’s lives at risk. Some outlets create social media posts that falsely report impending disaster occurrences or wrongly report the path or impact of a natural disaster for ratings and site traffic. This type of misinformation can be quickly spread unintentionally by well-meaning social media users and can cause undue panic or result in people being unprepared. To prevent sharing misinformation, research the claim being made in the post before sharing it with others in your network. Be cautious of any news or information that seems too good to be true. Verify information you receive with reliable and reputable sources–such as mainstream news outlets or state organizations–before sharing or acting on it.

More Information

Unfortunately, when disaster occurs, deceitful actors attempt to capitalize on the vulnerability or sympathy or others. By following these tips, you can help protect yourself from disaster scams and ensure that you keep yourself and others safe from illegitimate organizations. Find more disaster-related resources on www.aces.edu.