Haiti Relief Efforts: Best Advice for Giving Safely

The Internet has not only changed how we get our news, it has also changed how quickly and effectively we can respond to it. We’ve seen this with disaster-relief efforts in the past, and we’re seeing it again in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January.

The good news: online fundraising for victims of the Haiti earthquake are mobilizing relief efforts, raising money for those in dire need. According to relief agencies, donations to help victims are pouring in at an unparalleled rate do to pledge campaigns through online social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, and text messaging. "This breaks all world records for a mobile giving campaign. It's been incredible. People have donated more to Haiti than to Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami in Asia. And Twitter has played an extremely significant part," American Red Cross spokeswoman, Gloria Huang, said in a recent BBC News article.

However, there is a negative repercussion of all of this online focus on relief efforts: scammers are taking notice. When disasters strike, cyber criminals know that they can take advantage of the feeling of good will that follows such events. And they spring into action.

In fact, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a new public warning on fraud related to Haitian earthquake relief efforts, asking people to ‘apply a critical eye’ before responding to appeals for donations received through e-mail and social networking sites.

What’s especially malicious about these types of scams? Not only are the cyber criminals attempting to get hold of your money but, at the same time, they are siphoning funds meant to go towards aiding worthy organizations.

To avoid scams and make sure that your money goes to its intended recipient, the FBI has released guidelines to follow before making donations, including the advice, below.

  • Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mail, and don’t click on links in these messages.
  • Be especially cautious if you’re approached for donations by individuals claiming to be surviving victims or officials – you’ll need to keep an eye out in your inbox as well as on networking sites.
  • Confirm the organization’s existence and non-profit status before donating. Don’t blindly follow purported links to an organization’s website.
  • Don’t open e-mail attachments claiming to be pictures of disaster areas (these may contain malware).
  • To make sure that your money goes to the intended cause, give directly to the source. Don’t rely on another individual or organization to make a donation on your behalf.
  • Don’t give personal or financial details to anyone who solicits contributions.
  • Don’t make cash donations. Pay by debit card, credit card, or a check made out directly to the charity.

Want to report a scam that you’ve come across online involving the Haiti relief effort? For those located within the U.S., the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud have established a telephone hotline, (866) 720-5721, to report suspected Haitian earthquake relief fraud. You can also e-mail information directly to disaster@leo.gov. Additionally, Lavasoft has put together a list of the initial steps you can take if you’ve spotted an online scam – read the article “I’ve Spotted An Online Scam! Now What?” to learn more.

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