Whether you are boarding up your windows for an impending hurricane or beginning to recover from a different natural disaster, thinking about protecting yourself against fraud is probably not at the top of your list.

“In the preparation and aftermath of a major hurricane or any other type of natural disaster – the opportunity for fraud exists from multiple angles,” said Trevor Buxton, a fraud awareness and communications manager and Certified Fraud Examiner with PNC Bank.

Potential Phishing Attacks

Cyber criminals take advantage of consumer vulnerability during natural disasters. They will most likely use the recent hurricanes as a catalyst to try to trick you.

“Phishing presents the fastest route to the victim’s money,” said Buxton. “Out of several thousand phishing attempts, it only takes a handful of successful bites for a fraudster to turn a profit.”

For example, cyber criminals could compose an email message tempting you to click on a link that contains “urgent news about Hurricane Irma evacuations” or text message asking you to send personal or banking information to donate to relief efforts. PNC offers tips to help you learn how to identify a phishing attempt.

Public advisories regarding phishing scams in the wake of hurricanes are available from the United States Emergency Readiness Team.

Counterfeit Charities

In addition to phishing scams, fictitious charities pop up during and after natural disasters, soliciting all types of donations such as money, medications, or other goods, including food or power generators.

Websites such as GuideStar.org or CharityNavigator.org help donors determine whether their relief funds are going to a legitimate charity. If the organization is not found on one of these websites, it may be a scam.

To help avoid charity fraud, follow these tips:

  • Beware of door-to-door solicitors. Most charities do not do this. Do not be fooled by imposters wearing official-looking clothes or carrying badges. Instead, make donations directly to the charity's website.
  • Do not respond to emails, text messages or social media posts asking for donations. It is better to contact the charity directly through its official website or phone number.
  • Beware of telemarketers. Avoid pushy telemarketers who refuse to answer questions or demand a credit card number. Some telemarketers will keep as much as 90 percent of donations for themselves.
  • Be wary of giving to crowdfunding sites. While these sites contain many worthy causes, they do not screen users for authenticity. Ensure you are donating to a legitimate source.
  • Protect your personal information. Do not give out credit card or bank account numbers to an unknown source who contacts you. Do not transmit personal information by email or text message.

Natural disasters can bring out the best and the worst in people. Those who want to aid in recovery are at risk of being exploited by fraudsters seeking to profit from misfortune, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.

-Trevor Buxton