AUGUST 2008

Bad Behavior

If you thought that the online schemes you’ve seen so far could not get any more reprehensible, we have bad news for you with this month’s Bad Behavior pick. The tactic we are calling attention to – fraudulent charitable contribution schemes – ranks high in terms of the level of shame and dishonesty used by the cyber scammers. Keep reading to find out how to ensure you won’t get taken advantage of.

Understanding the Threat
This online scheme utilizes phishing, a type of social engineering attack where cyber-criminals try to fraudulently get hold of your private information, like usernames, passwords and credit card details. Phishers have been known to use direct messaging, e-mails, or pop-ups in order to initiate their scams; they may attempt to lead you to a counterfeit website, impersonate a well-known company and convince you to respond, or plant malware on your PC after you click a link.

This particular method works off of people’s desire to do good by contributing money in order to help victims of tragedy around the world. Charity fraud occurs when scammers deceptively obtain money from people who are under the assumption that they are donating to legitimate charities. 

The Bad Behavior
With this kind of tactic, the cyber criminals time their scams to most effectively take advantage of well-meaning people who are aiming to help the victims of disasters. When disasters strike, fraud operators know that they can take advantage of the feeling of good will that follows such events. And they spring into action.

In mid July, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued an alert on avoiding fraudulent charitable contribution scams which aimed to take advantage of people’s inclination to give back to those in need after recent disasters.

“Tragic incidents, such as 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the recent earthquake in China, have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization and/or a good cause,” according to IC3’s alert.

What’s especially bad about this type of scam? Not only are the cyber criminals attempting to take hold of your money, at the same time, they are siphoning funds meant to go towards aiding worthy organizations.

“We have seen this time and time again—these scam artists will do anything and everything to steal your identity and your money as you try and make donations to well-deserving charities. If you want your money to go to a good cause, exercise caution to ensure it gets to those in need,” said a U.S. federal government official in a recent press release on charity fraud.

Winning Strategies
As cyber scammers up their tactics, becoming more and more sophisticated, it is increasingly difficult to tell when you are being duped. Be aware that online donation scams may come in various forms – spoofed websites, pop-up messages, unsolicited e-mail, or even posts in online forums. To help keep from falling for fraudulent charitable contribution schemes and other e-mail scams, follow the guidelines, below, before you give to charity.

  • Treat all e-mail with a skeptical eye. It’s always best to be cautious of any unsolicited messages. Likewise, your guard should be up if you receive an e-mail from an individual claiming to be from an organization, and asking for a donation. Use caution even when the message appears to come from a safe sender, as identity information in messages can easily be spoofed.
  • Think before you click. Be cautious about the links and attachments that are included in e-mail messages. Clicking the wrong link or opening a malicious attachment may inadvertently infect your PC with a virus or malware.
  • Do your research. You should never give out personal or financial information without confirming that the organization you are dealing with is trusted and legitimate. If you are not giving to a widely known charity, ensure that it is legitimate. This can be done by verifying the organization’s non-profit status. It’s also a good idea to find out exactly how your contribution will be used.
  • Pay attention to the details. Scammers may try to fool you by operating under a name that is related to that of a familiar charity. Pay special attention to the exact name of the organization, and even to its spelling.
  • Give directly to the source. To make sure that your money goes to the intended charity, do not rely on another individual or organization to make a donation on your behalf. If you intend to donate online, play it safe by going to the organization’s website by manually typing the address in to your browser (double-check that the spelling is correct), and not by clicking any links sent in an e-mail.

For more tips and information, see the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s July press release.

 
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