Natural disasters happen. Whether it is an earthquake, a tsunami, a hurricane, a tornado or a whole host of others Mother Nature lets us know that she is still in charge. Once the disaster is over the cleanup begins and that takes time and money. For many relief and charity organizations they need to raise funds quickly so that they can begin their efforts and an easy way to do so is to set up a website to generate funds. Unfortunately many less than scrupulous charities or even just downright bad people use the ease of setting up the website to take advantage of the generosity that many people have.

Criminals just waiting for a disaster

Even before Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolinas dozens of new domains were registered with some like to the hurricane according to Internet security expert Brian Krebs. Most remained dormant until after Florence passed and then became active. The sites direct users looking to make a donation to a private PayPal account. Little or no information is provided about who or what charity is running the site or what will be done with the money. Most also include the same 1-800 number. It seems that accountability in the charity world can be hard to find as there are also numerous charities that are legitimate but donations go towards administration and further fundraising rather than helping the people in need but that is a story for another day.

The scam sites were created using Godaddy and are also linked to social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Patriotic imagery is used as is photos of people helping others or bags of food to give the sites an air of legitimacy and to tug at your heartstrings so you will open your wallet. GoDaddy makes setting up a website something that anyone in the world can potentially do and the same can be said for other website design platforms including WordPress. Besides of course conning people out of money that is intended to be used for disaster relief the victims also give out some of their personal information which can also be used later for spam or for a phishing attack. A double whammy since you are essentially paying someone who will attack you later.

How can you protect yourself?

There are a couple of ways to protect yourself or your business. The Federal government and the Department of Justice offer some tips for how to avoid falling for one of the scheme. Several websites also grade charities like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Give.org and Charity Watch but these may not always be accurate or completely up to date.

Most people wonder just why these sites are not immediately shut down or the site is allowed to be created. Sites like Godaddy have little control with who can set up a site and when scams are reported and confirmed they have shut down many of the sites. Since most of the process is automated to allow potentially anyone and everyone to be able to create a site there is no developer or quality control like at Nicely Done Sites. The same can be said for social media sites. Just think how easy it is to create a Facebook page.

Know before you donate on the web

Not every web hosting service is ethically run or those services simply may not care. Income is income and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. The other problem is that it can take time to verify that a page is a scam. If a website just pops up it may take time to determine where payments go and what is done with those payments. Some of those pages may just be set up by a well-meaning individual trying to do their part for the first time, are not affiliated with any organization and have no history. The best thing that someone can do is to do their own research on a charity before donating and also to pay via credit card or check. Not only will you be more confident that your donation is going to where it can better help but you will help to protect yourself from more attacks.

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