Home > Identity Theft > How to Avoid Scams in the Wake of the Storm

Comments 0 Comments

You’ve seen the dramatic footage of rescues and calamities, shots of stranded families, pets, and wildlife—even giant carp—and you’ve probably had the same reaction many other Americans had the past few weeks: “How can I help?”

There are myriad ways you can ease the suffering and hardship being experienced in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but there are also a number of pitfalls to watch out for.

It is quite easy to fall prey to scam artists who come out in full force whenever a disaster of this magnitude occurs. In fact, the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) was instituted after Hurricane Katrina with a mission to hold post-disaster scam artists in check.

“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey,” a recent NCDF release warned. These criminals have one goal: to get rich (or less poor) quick by sending crooked communications—and it doesn’t matter if it is via SMS, email, social media, or fraudulent websites designed to solicit contributions.

Several state attorneys general have sent out similar communiqués over the past week. If you want to help but are worried about scams, we’ve outlined best practices for you here.

What to Avoid

There are many ways a scam can go down. It’s worth bearing in mind that, just as you go to work, these criminals are also “going to work”—but their job is conjuring up new and ingenious ways to garner ill-gotten gains.

Phony Websites: One ploy that happens every year is in connection with the annual registration of storm names. Each spring, when the National Weather Service announces the roster of storm names, phony websites are registered using those storm names. These are hedges. Should the particular storm occur, the scammer is ready with a website purporting to collect relief funds—but in this case, it is relief from the criminal’s unbearable urge to separate you from your money, and, worse, your desire to help.

Crowdsourcing: Another common ploy is the GoFundMe page. Sometimes these pages are legitimate, but it’s up to you to do the research to figure that out. Crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe provide you with the means to communicate with the organizer requesting funds, and you should always do so before donating.

Just because you saw the story of a particular person’s horrendous plight on the news doesn’t mean the GoFundMe campaign is legitimate. Scam artists saw the same segment. If you have any questions about a particular page, you should contact the crowdsourcing site directly in addition to the organizer of the campaign that you’d like to help.

Email Appeals: Do not reply to email appeals. Don’t do it if it’s an organization that you’ve given money to over and over. Don’t do it even if it’s your mom. Just don’t do it. The chances that you’re being baited into a phishing scam are high. It’s easier and safer to delete that message and type the URL of whatever charity is making the appeal into a securely connected internet browser instead.

The same goes for emails that link to images of a storm’s aftermath. Do not click those links.

Forwarded Emails: Never click on links emailed to you about big news events, even if they come from friends or family, unless you confirm with the sender that they actually sent the link. But, even then, be wary. They may just be forwarding a malware-laden email they received from someone they thought they knew (who was a scammer masquerading as the person they thought they knew). Email accounts can be spoofed, and any identity thief worth their salt can quickly and easily scam you using this method.

Never forget, if a scammer can get you to click on the right malware, they can drain your bank accounts or available credit, open accounts in your name, take advantage of your access to health care, divert your tax refunds, or commit other crimes in your name.

It’s also important to watch out for relief-related fraud. There have been multiple reports of people impersonating FEMA inspectors, insurance inspectors, and representatives of the National Flood Insurance Program. These impersonators perform another form of fraud—filing claims for relief money in your name.

Better Bets

If you’re looking for vetted places where your money will do the most good, there are many legitimate sources of information about helpful organizations.

If you see a story that interests you, get in touch directly with the organization or person featured. In our connected society, this is almost always possible, and it cuts out the risk of “getting got” by someone in the middle looking to take your money and run.

Before you submit your payment, make sure the charity you selected can actually deliver relief to victims. There are legitimate charity efforts that simply cannot deliver, often due to a lack of on-the-ground resources. Check to see if the charity you’re interested in already has operations in place, and if they don’t, find one that does.

If you’re worried you may have been the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud, you’ll want to check your bank accounts and credit reports regularly for suspicious activity. You can check your credit report for free at Credit.com.

Image: Ismailciydem

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other sponsored content on Credit.com are Partners with Credit.com. Credit.com receives compensation if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any financial products or cards offered.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.



Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team