Hurricane Harvey’s Category 4 winds and record rainfall has left at least eight people dead and flooded major chunks of Houston, Texas. As first responders and several federal agencies respond to the emergency, they’re also warning citizens to investigate charities thoroughly before sending aid.
Though many established charities have called for donations of more supplies—food, cleaning products and blood transfusions, for instance—the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently tweeted that donors should work with “trusted voluntary organizations” approved by the National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster association. That group has about 50 members including the American Red Cross, Convoy of Home and United Way Worldwide.
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The U.S. Emergency Computer Readiness Team, known as US-CERT, warned email users to be cautious of any messages related to Hurricane Harvey, even if it appears to be from an organization or person they know. Fraudulent emails could include malicious links that can infect the recipient’s computer with malware or send them to a site aimed at capturing personal information. There is also often an uptick in email scams from fraudulent charities after natural disasters, according to that group.
Users shouldn’t follow links in email messages but should keep their anti-virus software updated, and check whether the organization’s contact information is listed by the Better Business Bureau’s National Charity Report Index.
Criminals often capitalize on major news events for scams. For example, during tax season the Internal Revenue Service saw an uptick in email phishing messages related to tax filings; in one, criminals posing as executives from the recipient’s employer, asking the recipient for payroll documents containing sensitive information about other employees' tax filings.