In the wake of a natural disaster, many feel a natural urge to donate. Unfortunately, scam artists have an equally predictable response—they pose as relief agencies or charitable organizations in hopes of intercepting money or personal information. It happened after Hurricane Katrina. It happened after the earthquake in Haiti.
Now, it’s happening again, in the midst of the crisis in Japan.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Domain name scams – The Internet security firm Symantec has already detected 50 new web domain names with the names “Japan tsunami” or “Japan earthquake” in the title. Some are parked (registered but inactive), others are up for sale, and others linked to earthquake sites. “Don’t be surprised if you see these domains being used in phishing and spam attacks,” says Symantec blogger Samir Patil. The situation is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. A few weeks after the hurricane struck, the FBI put the number of Katrina-related websites at 4,000—more than four times what they’d tracked the previous week. “Many of them may be legitimate, but fraudulent ones are popping up faster than we can pound them down,” the FBI’s Louis Reigel commented at the time.
- American Red Cross/Salvation Army Scams – There have been numerous reports of scammers appropriating the names of the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army to solicit donations, either by e-mail, by phone or in person. If you wish to donate to either organization, contact them directly to avoid fraud.
- British Red Cross Scam – The British Red Cross reports that impostors are trying to collect money on behalf of the organization via e-mails, phone calls, and even in person. Bogus e-mails have requested payment through Western Union or Money Bookers, something the British Red Cross never does.
- Facebook Scam – The situation in Japan has also give rise to identity theft scams on Facebook. The Better Business Bureau reports that people have been creating Facebook pages promising “Japanese Tsunami RAW Tidal Wave Footage!” “They use those videos to lure users to a malicious site where it triggers an automatic ‘Like’ and asks for the user’s personal info,” according to the BBB.
To avoid disaster-related fraud and mitigate its impact, follow these general tips:
- Don’t click on e-mail links or open attachments associated with the Japan relief efforts.
- Thoroughly examine charities asking for money and contact them directly. (For more guidance, check out these tools and tips from the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission).
[Resource: 12 Tips for Protecting Your Identity]