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How to Avoid Storm-Related Scams

Beware of fraudsters trying to cash in on the hurricanes

post disaster scams fallout fraud from hurricane harvey

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Consumer experts warn to be aware of online scams in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

While Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it’s still causing plenty of havoc when it comes to fraud. To scammers who’ve honed their internet skills fleecing unsuspecting consumers in the past, big natural disasters such as Harvey and Irma offer a perfect entree into defrauding storm victims, along with the good Samaritans who want to donate money or otherwise provide help.

Cyberthieves already have snapped up scores of internet domain names containing combinations of words such as “Irma,” “help,” “victims” and “relief.” The Center for Internet Security has tracked nearly 750 freshly registered domain names and Monday issued a warning that consumers should be wary of bogus websites claiming to be charities as well as emails that may contain phishing messages or malware that could compromise personal information and financial accounts. Fake online GoFundMe pages — including one purporting to be from Miami-based singer-songwriter Jason Derulo seeking $1 million for Irma victims — have also sprung up. (GoFundMe, which shut down the Derulo page, has set up a separate link, gofundme.com/Irma, for verified fundraisers.)

“Cybercriminals are opportunists and, sadly, events like Harvey and Irma are prime examples of their preying on humanity's empathy and trust,’’ says Zack Allen, manager of threat operations at security consultant ZeroFox. “People all over the world quickly rushed to their social media accounts to find the best avenues to donate to victims, but these same avenues are ideal for scammers who try to convince victims to donate to their fraudulent causes.”

Allen’s advice:

  • Do not click on any message or link from a post, page or profile that you do not trust.
  • Check profiles for the verified organization logo before following their advice.
  • Research the organization or cause you are donating to. Try contacting them, checking if they are listed on the Better Business Bureau website and asking friends and family if they have experience donating to the organization.

Florida officials are also warning homeowners to beware of scammers who show up posing as Federal Emergency Management Agency damage inspectors or repair contractors. Consumers are also falling prey to robocalls and other unsolicited calls that seek storm-related donations or offer damage assessments and flood insurance. “One of the red flags people should be aware of is someone getting in touch with you out of the blue,’’ said Federal Trade Commission spokesman Frank Dorman. “It’s definitely something you want to be wary of.”

The FTC and Texas officials say Harvey-related online scams continue to proliferate: The state attorney general’s office had received 3,285 complaints about scams, fraud and price gouging through Monday. There also have been complaints from flood victims over phony home repairs, insurance scams and fraudulent FEMA-related jobs. If Texans in affected counties believe they have been scammed or encountered price gouging during or after Hurricane Harvey, they should call the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline, 800-621-0508, or email consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov.

Consumers can also file a complaint with the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721.

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