The tremendous devastation caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Japan, and to a lesser extent the damage caused by the tsunamis impact in other countries is heart-wrenching, and good people all over the world are looking for ways to help. Yet in the aftermath of any disaster it seems crooks respond faster than governments and honest organizations.
How can you know that the help you’re giving is going to those in need and not into the pockets of criminals padding their lifestyles or used to fund even more crime? A few precautionary steps can make all the difference.
- Protect the identities of those impacted by the disaster. The internet and mobile telephony are invaluable tools when disaster strikes. The ability to quickly reach out and learn the fate of family and friends who may be impacted provides answers that earlier generations had to wait weeks or months to learn. People-finding services can be a tremendous aid in this process as we’ve seen in disasters like Katrina in New Orleans, Haiti, Chili, and New Zealand.However, there is a delicate balance between providing enough information to make contact or identify someone in a crisis, and providing so much information that it can be used to steal identities and cause further damage. If you have loved ones involved in this disaster, be cautious as you share information. Then, be extra vigilant for at least 6 months after sharing information at watching for fraud. Everyone involved should be closely monitoring their credit reports and identity.
- Don’t get fooled by fake charitable websites. These scams typically come in one of two forms. The first is the ‘mistype’, where scammers use URL’s that are very similar to legitimate organizations in the knowledge that some people will inadvertently misspell words and land on their site, or their URL will at first glance seem legitimate to would-be donors. The second scam type in this category is the entirely fake charitable organization. It takes almost no time to create a fake website complete with a donate button. It takes almost no extra time to create a bunch of additional sites that reference the wonderful fake charity, so that a superficial check won’t uncover the scam.The only way to be sure you’re on a legitimate site is to use well known organizations or really do your homework. For known organizations, use a search engine to find their website – don’t be pulled to a fake site by a link sent to you or on a website. For unknown organizations, do your research and check out the Better Business Bureau’s material on charities and donors. If you can’t find them listed, use a different charity.
- Know how to spot and avoid email scams. Email scammers are getting very sophisticated. While many scammers still use the worn-out lines like ‘you’ve won the lottery’, ‘a prince in Nigeria wants to give you money’, ‘help, I’m stranded and hurt in England and need money’, and ‘Deer Sir, yur bank account haz been broken pleeze, send us all yur information so we can restore yur ackount”, the smarter scammers are making considerably smarter scams.These scams shine. Their grammar is impeccable, their branding (even if it hasn’t been ripped off of a legitimate site) is top-notch, and their messages have been crafted by skilled psychologists in order to use the right tone and elicit the right response from you (which is you parting with your money). These scams are likely to appear as though they were sent to you by a friend to reduce any suspicion, and if you aren’t paying attention, they are likely to work.Your only true defense is to independently find the legitimate site of the legitimate charity you are trying to support. To learn more check out my blog 14 Steps to Avoiding Scams
Let your heart guide you, but let your mind keep a watchful eye.