Pagoda Blog

How to Avoid Online Scams for Disaster Aid

April 20, 2023

When natural disasters strike, cybercriminals follow close behind. Cybercriminals are adept at spotting vulnerabilities in a system (why you should always download the latest software updates) and also in people. 


Social engineering tactics, such as phishing scams, are a perfect example of how bad actors take advantage of an individual’s weakness. And what is that weakness you might ask? As social creatures, we tend to blindly trust and follow the directives of people and organizations that we know. We also naturally want to help others in their time of need. While we of course shouldn’t ignore these overall positive tendencies, we should be aware of them when dealing with online donation requests. 


The recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023 gave rise to a slew of online disaster aid scams exploiting those vulnerabilities mentioned above. While we all want to help the victims of a horrendous natural disaster like the earthquakes, it’s imperative to take extra precautions before donating to an online charity asking for funds. 


Don’t open emails from unknown senders

Online scams for disaster aid will often appear to come from a legitimate organization. They include requests for funds, blood drive promotions, and promising exclusive news content when you click a link. If you receive any emails of this sort from an organization you don’t recognize or recall ever subscribing to, don’t open it. 


Avoid clicking links on social media

You should also be wary of social media posts with links. Many scams are posted by individuals on social media outlets like TikTok and use arresting photo or video footage along with a link to donate. Some of these images are AI-generated or pulled from past natural disasters unrelated to the February 6, 2023 earthquakes.  


Do your own research before donating

It’s best to do your own research online to find a reputable organization to donate to and then donate to the cause directly through their website. 


KnowBe4 shares this important reminder with anyone looking to donate to the cause:   


"In case you want to donate to charity, go to your usual charity by typing their name in the address bar of your browser and do not click on a link in any email. Remember, these precautions are just as important at the house as in the office, so tell your friends and family."


Here are more tips from the FTC on how to avoid charity scams and ensure your money goes directly to help those in need: 


Search online for the name of the charity you are interested in supporting, plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.” See if others have had good or bad experiences with the charity.


- Check what charity watchdog groups say about the organization. Don't assume that familiar-sounding names or messages posted on social media are legitimate. Donate to charities you know and trust and with a proven record of dealing with disasters.


- Ask how your money will be spent. If someone calls to ask to donate, they should be able to answer how much of your donation will go to the program you want to help, and other critical questions.


- Look at fees and timing if you’re donating through an online platform or social media. Check whether your donation will go directly to the charity and if not, how long it will take to get there, and if there are fees.


- Visit before you open up your wallet. Learn more about giving through online platforms, and how to spot and avoid charity scams.


Again, we don’t want to discourage anyone from donating to legitimate organizations that support victims of natural disasters. Just be sure that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself before you click ‘donate.’ 


This is a longer version of our weekly LinkedIn newsletter, IT Enlightenment for SMBs. Make sure to subscribe for weekly actionable IT advice and tech tips to set your business up for success.


Featured photo by on Unsplash


Related reading: 

11 Ways to Spot a Phishing Email 

LinkedIn Scams and How to Spot Them

How to Set Up a Disaster Recovery Plan for Your Business


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