Nepal Charity Spam: Caring Donors, Crafty Criminals

In April 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the tiny country of Nepal. Over 3,500 people died, and another 6,500 were injured. When disasters like this happen, people around the world want to help. They want to donate money or send physical goods to those in need.

In those moments when so many exhibit the best of human nature, others display the worst of human nature by operating charity scams. When a disaster happens, individuals and criminal groups put together spam campaigns asking for donations. They rip off good people who want to help, and disaster victims never see a dime.

What Charity Scams Look (and Sound) Like

Charity scammers impersonate sincere, caring aid organizations, or they portray themselves as innocent victims who are emailing the world and asking for help. Here are some examples of common charity scams, including scams perpetrated by email spammers:

Telemarketers. You receive an unsolicited phone call from a pleasant sounding person who runs an aid organization. You don’t recognize the name, but you’re eager to help, so you share your credit card information over the phone.

Email. You get an unsolicited message with an earthquake relief fund in the subject line. When you open it, the message suggests that you donate to a familiar organization, such as World Vision, to help with disaster relief efforts. You click a link that leads to a malicious website, and you enter your credit card number.

Text message. You receive an unsolicited text message offering you the chance to donate to earthquake victims. All you have to do is click a link or text a shortcode — that leads directly to a scammer.

Social media. A friend shares a Facebook page entitled “Donate to Nepal.” You like the page and then click a link on the page to send money to the organization. Sadly, it’s a fake organization, and your money goes into criminals’ pockets.

The URLs sent to you via email spam, text message, or social media share can do more than just accept your payment information. They also download malware onto your computer or smartphone, which you might inadvertently share with others.

For example, if you login to your workplace network using your infected computer, you could upload malware onto your company’s website, compromising business server virtualization security. Then, the scammers have not only your payment information but also the chance to steal information about others.

How to Avoid Scams

It’s a good rule of thumb to never respond immediately to unsolicited donation requests, whether those requests happen through email, over social media, through text messages, or over the phone. If a telemarketer calls and asks you to donate, ask the telemarketer to send written information about the charity.

Alternatively, you can take down the name of the organization, look it up online, and donate on the organization’s website, but never give your financial information to a telemarketer, no matter how respectable the organization sounds.

Also, never, ever click a link in an email message, a text message, or a social media share. Instead, open up your browser, search for the organization on Google or Bing, and find its website another way. Before you part with your hard-earned money, do some research to make sure you’re giving to a legitimate charity.

Charity Navigator, for example, rates charities and gives you information about how they spend their money. They evaluate charities on a 4-star system, with four stars demonstrating excellence and zero stars demonstrating poor performance. Their ratings are based on financial health, transparency, and results:

Financial health. The most trustworthy charities spend most of their donations on their programs. They spend a small amount on administrative and fundraising costs.

Transparency. Good charities are governed by independent boards, and they produce audited financial statements. They share their CEO’s salary, demonstrate openness about records retention, and don’t make loans to officers or staff.

Results. Charity Navigator is developing a program to evaluate charities based on their results. Soon, you’ll see data on the effectiveness of charity programs and how efficiently donations are used.

Keep Your Money Safe

If you can’t find public information about a charity that contacts you, send your money to another organization. You deserve to know your hard-earned money actually benefits the people who need it.

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