If you want to help those who actually need help in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, be sure you're giving to who you think you are.
In the world of scams, there are few lower than disaster opportunity con artists. As it is after ever just about any disaster strikes, some fraud will set up shop and try to fool those who want to help into sending money to them rather than to those in need.
The Boston Marathon bombing is no different. More than 125 domain names were registered immediately after the bombing. It is not unusual to see websites with names connected to a disaster used to dupe well-meaning people, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The Better Business Bureau began hearing about scams connected to the bombing circulating on social media as early as Monday evening, said Paul Fleming, vice president of the BBB serving the Boston area. Social media, particularly taking advantage of the abundance of personal stories of victims, can help accelerate a phony fundraising page or even get well-meaning consumers to download viruses or malware.
Fleming said it is important to verify the legitimacy of a charity or a site trying to raise money on behalf of a survivor of the blast. She cited this as an example of a legitimate site -- because members of her family know the victim -- but that a scam site could even use the same images to appear legitimate. In addition, Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Tom Menino formed One Fund Boston to create a charitable organization for anyone looking for a place to donate.
Here are some tips from the FBI to help avoid having your intent to do good turned into helping fund a sleazy criminal's enterprise:
- Individuals can limit exposure to cyber criminals by taking the following preventative actions when using email and social networking Web sites.
- Messages may contain pictures, videos, and other attachments designed to infect your computer with malware. Do not agree to download software to view content.
- Links appearing as legitimate sites (example: fbi.gov), could be hyperlinked to direct victims to another Web site when clicked. These sites may be designed to infect your computer with malware or solicit personal information. Do not follow a link to a Web site; go directly to the Web site by entering the legitimate site’s URL.
- Individuals can also limit exposure to cyber criminals by taking the following preventative actions when receiving solicitations from, or donating to, charitable organizations online.
- Verify the existence and legitimacy of organizations by conducting research and visiting official Web sites. Be skeptical of charity names similar to but not exactly the same as reputable charities.
- Do not allow others to make the donation on your behalf. Donation-themed messages may also contain links to Web sites designed to solicit personal information, which is routed to a cyber criminal.
- Make donations securely by using debit/credit card or write a check made out to the specific charity. Be skeptical of making donations via money transfer services as legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations using this method of payment.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com