Scenes of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey are all over the newsstands and Internet. Videos of the devastation are being broadcast around the globe. The hurricane hit the Texas coast two days ago, forcing tens of thousands of Texas residents to flee their homes. While the hurricane has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, meteorologists are predicting the heavy rainfall will continue at lease for a couple more days and flood waters are continuing to rise.
Following any natural disaster, email scams are rife and extra care must be taken. Hurricane Harvey is no exception. While homeowners were preparing for the worst, cybercriminals were developing Hurricane Harvey phishing scams to fool the unwary into revealing their sensitive information or downloading malware.
Just as looters take advantage of abandoned homes, scammers take advantage of interest in the disaster and send malicious emails that direct users to phishing websites and exploit kits that silently download malware. Scammers capitalize on interest in disasters to conduct malicious activities.
The expected deluge of malicious emails has prompted US-CERT to issue a warning about Hurricane Harvey phishing scams, urging Americans to be extra vigilant. Similar warnings have also been issued by the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Hurricane Harvey phishing scams are likely to have eye-catching subject lines offering updates on Hurricane Harvey and stories relating to the disaster or relief efforts. The scam emails contain malicious hyperlinks that will direct users to phishing websites and sites where malware is downloaded. Malicious email attachments are also used to install malware and ransomware.
Users should be extremely wary about opening any emails relating to Hurricane Harvey, especially emails sent from unknown senders. The best advice is not to click on any hyperlink in an email relating to Hurricane Harvey and not to open email attachments sent in those messages.
While email is favored by many scammers, Hurricane Harvey phishing scams can be found on social media sites. Facebook posts and tweets may direct users to phishing websites where credit card details can be obtained or to fake charity websites where donations can be made.
How to Give to Charity to Support the Victims and Avoid Being Scammed
A natural disaster such as this causes devastation for tens of thousands of families. Homes and businesses are lost and families are forced to take refuge in shelters. Displaced families need support and many charities are accepting donations to help the victims.
However, all may not be as it seems. Scammers spoof legitimate charities and set up bogus websites where donations can be made. Oftentimes, legitimate charities are spoofed and donations never make it to the victims.
The advice offered by the Federal Trade Commission is to be wary of any request for donations to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Rather than respond directly to email and social media requests for donations, visit the charity webpage directly and independently verify the charity is legitimate.
The Better Business Bureau is maintaining a list of BBB-accredited charities that are accepting donations to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey, as is Guidestar. By checking the legitimacy of the charity, users can make sure their donations reach the victims of the hurricane and do not end up lining criminals’ pockets.
If you are considering donating to a charity that is not on either list, before making a donation, check that the charity is registered by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.