Charity Scams: The Gift of Giving Gone Wrong
While everyone’s talking about all the new ways cybercriminals can get at your data, there are still plenty of hackers who opt for more traditional basic scams, and charity scams is not much different, but growing more and more popular among hackers.
The common basic scams are hacks that even a newbie can use to target victims, because they are simple and because they work so well.
How many people fell for the Nigerian scam, the Romance scam, and the Travelers scam? These are pretty basic concepts, but millions of people have already lost billions of dollars to them.
Whether the scam targets a person’s desire for love or their need to help somebody out, one thing is always true: these scams play off of your intrinsic human desire to do something good.
The latest scam is particularly sinister because it targets your sense of generosity and altruism using the keyword “charity” to trigger an emotional reaction.
Here’s a closer look at the latest malware that’s claiming new victims every day. And with any luck, we can educate you before you become the next “charity scam” victim.
Wait, Charity is a Good Thing, Right?
The concept behind a charity scam is ridiculously simple – the cybercriminal creates a fake charity and then gets victims to donate money to the phony cause.
Instead of the money going towards building a new children’s hospital, feeding the homeless, or saving an endangered whale, the con artist pockets the cash.
In most cases, scammers reel you in by sending a heart-wrenching email requesting an immediate donation.
Charity scams comes in Many Shapes & Sizes
While charity scams aren’t as damning as more sophisticated malware like Trojans, they can do a boatload of damage before the day is done.
Charity scams come in a few forms, and the more developed ones are even more effective.
The simplest method looks and acts a lot like the Nigerian scams you might already know about.
The grifter emails you, asking you to send donations via money transfer directly to to their bank account. These are easy enough to avoid since most people know what to look out for.
The next level of sophistication includes an actual website for the charity.
This makes the charity seem legit, so you are more likely to take the bait.
These websites usually look like actual sites with information about the charity and lots of details, mission statements, even a board of directors, all there to put your mind at ease.
Pages built with credit card portals are designed so you can easily make an immediate donation.
Payment processors take a lot more maneuvering, but they definitely give people the confidence they need to hand over their information.
No Hope? Not Quite
While these scams are tricky, they are not unavoidable.
In fact, just knowing about the charity scam means you are much less likely to fall for one.
But there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk and avoid an uncomfortable situation from happening to you.
FIrst, here’s what not to do:
- Never click on a link that was sent to you via an email address you aren’t familiar with. In fact, if you don’t know the sender, you shouldn’t believe a word of what’s written in the email.
- Never download attachments unless you are 100% positive that they are safe.
- Keep your guard up across channels: don’t assume that because the message is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram that it’s safer. A charity fraud can come from any source. Pay attention to trends in your friends’ feeds because this could be an indication that someone has been hacked and that you’ll be targeted next. If you see that a lot of your friends have statuses saying they donated to a specific charity, take that as a red flag.
- Even legitimate websites like GoFundMe can be used by a cybercriminal to manipulate the system. Often fraudsters will create phony causes on real sites, so do your research before donating to any campaign. The same goes for legitimate ad sites. Anyone can pay to put up an ad on Google; that doesn’t make them legit.
- Being timely doesn’t make you real. Hackers will often look at the latest news topics or what’s trending on social media channels to find relevant causes to rally for. Just because someone approaches you saying they’re collecting for the recent hurricane, tornado, or other catastrophe that occurred doesn’t mean that they are, so use caution even when your heart says to give.
Here’s what you can do:
- If you’re interested in donating to a specific charity but aren’t sure if the charity is real or not, check out their website. We know, having a website doesn’t prove anything, but not having a website is a definite red flag.
- Even if the charity does have a website, don’t take it at face value. Instead, search for the charity on Google. Don’t simply count the results but look deeper into the actual links – are there reputable websites in the results? What do they say about the charity? Are the results populated by sites that simply provide reports on other websites and their domains (another definite warning sign)? Really do your homework before filling out your details.
- If you are interested in giving donations to a charity that is dealing with recent events, make sure to go for the bigger, more well-known charities. Rely more on the actual search results than on ads since results are based on the size and popularity of a website – meaning the top results would most likely be legitimate charities.
- Always make sure you’re on the right website before actually making a donation. Cybercriminals are notoriously good at duplicating legitimate websites so they’re phony causes look like the real ones.
- If you’re looking to donate but don’t have a specific site in mind, use sites like charitynavigator.org that list real charities to help you reduce the risk of donating to a fake charity.
On sites like GoFundMe it’s trickier to identify the real from the fake.
Stick to donating to either features and promoted funds that have a lot of other donors or to a cause that you know is real.
If you have already “zeroed in” on a certain fund you wish to donate to, you may want to run it through the search option on the site. This can help you make sure there aren’t fake funds trying to imitate real ones and that you are donating not only to the right cause but to the right legitimate fund.
Be Part of the Solution Not Part of The Problem
Charity fraud is a heinous crime that takes money away from people who really need it and redirects the cash to the pockets of criminals.
Be smart about the very real dangers that exist online, and read up on whatever charity you plan on donating to. This way, you’re protecting yourself and the people you are trying to help against falling for a charity scam.