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Watch Out for Hurricane Relief Scams

Related services: Security & Policy


It's possible that in the aftermath of the hurricanes, you may receive phishing emails, or see websites, ads, and other media created by scammers trying to take advantage of the tragedy. They are designed to grab your attention and compel you to donate or take some other action that is against your interests. Unfortunately, this means each time a natural disaster takes place, millions of dollars that could have been raised for relief efforts end up in the pockets of criminals, and computers get compromised.

Be on the lookout for deceptive appeals that claim they will help victims, but instead are trying to:

  • Steal donations meant to help
  • Install malware (viruses, key loggers, ransomware, etc.) on your computer
  • Capture your personal information (passwords, name, credit card numbers, etc.)

What to watch out for

Phishing emails and fraudulent charity websites, including perfectly copied (except for the address/URL) donation websites mimicking the American Red Cross, UNICEF, and other trusted organizations. All direct emails requesting aid, whomever the supposed source, should be considered suspicious.

Web addresses (URLs) with keywords that relate to the event (e.g. help, Houston, hurricane, relief, disaster, fund, and donations). The real organizations will generally point you to their main website, like redcross.org or unicef.org.

Twitter tweets, Facebook posts, and search engine results which can contain fraudulent links meant to capitalize on donations.

"People search" scams offering to find loved ones for a fee.

Compelling images and videos circulating on Facebook, which spread themselves when clicked, by posting as something you "like" on your wall, thereby causing your friends and family to click them as well.

Fake YouTube pages that "require" a Flash download, but install malware instead.

Protect yourself

Delete unsolicited emails relating to natural disasters or other tragedies. Don't respond to them or forward them. See the CIT Phish Bowl for fraudulent email examples seen at Cornell: it.cornell.edu/phishbowl

Only donate to trusted organizations like the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) or UNICEF ( www.unicef.org).

Use trusted news channels for information and video footage of the events.

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