Scams Threaten Donors in Wake of Hurricanes, Earthquakes

By Alex Johnson on Oct 2, 2017
As millions of people have suffered and are continuing to experience the devastating after-effects of the likes of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, online scammers are on the hunt, preying on the compassion of those eager to donate and help those people affected. As the saying goes, “Trust, but Verify.” These are wise words to live by in this day and age where there seems to be some form of cyber threat lurking behind every click.

In a recent interview, Timothy Crosby, a Senior Security consultant at Spohn Security Solutions, advises people to be wary of any charitable websites/links related to the recent hurricanes due to many of them being fraudulent and containing malware or directing to scam websites.

Crosby has a strong military background and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Prior to his current position, he had many years’ experience working with the government on the defensive side of security before switching to the offensive and enjoying more proactive roles such as a security auditor and compliance assessor. It would seem the field of cyber security was a natural fit and was only a matter of time until he found his current calling at Spohn Solutions.
“Previous disasters have been exploited like this, and the general public often doesn’t realize they’re being scammed until it’s too late. I’m not discouraging donating or helping, but everyone should be wary of anything online covering the Hurricane Harvey disaster in the following weeks.” – Crosby
“It’s always been a concern. When these [scams] started to surface, it used to just be phone calls from fraudulent 900 numbers or phishing letters that went out to people,” Crosby explains, “These fake [online] charitable organizations are just another avenue for the bad guys to come after us with.”

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Any time there’s a newsworthy event, such as the recent hurricanes, there are going to be people attempting to make a financial gain at the expense of others. This type of exploitation tends to be in the form of phishing attacks, specifically targeting those people who have a good heart and who want to help or want to know what they can do to help those in need. Tim elaborates that the public needs to be extra diligent of where they go online.

“Spend some time learning about how the main structure works and be especially careful for website domains that resemble actual legitimate organizations. Refrain from sharing or posting links unless you are 100 percent certain the organization and source is genuine.”

There are plenty of imposter domain names that are bought months in advance before these actual disasters take place that bear some semblance to established charities. Because people see a familiar name, either in the web or email address, many assume that it is automatically safe to enter personal data such as passwords or financial information. Therefore, Crosby encourages people to always, “Be aware!”

Some common areas where these scams are gaining traction are Facebook, Twitter, and through phishing emails. Crosby specifically cautions people to watch for Facebook pages dedicated to victim relief, as these pages can contain links to scam websites, as well as tweets with links to “charitable sites” asking for donations as these links can lead to scam sites or malware infection, and phishing emails asking for donations.

Now more than ever, people need to be vigilant when it comes to their online activities, especially ones that can potentially involve your money and personal information. This is magnified significantly in times of crisis and tragedy such as we have seen with recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“Most of the time people are in such a hurry to want to help that they don’t take time to stop and do research or the take the extra time to go in person and donate."

This is one of the common mistakes people tend to make that can increase your chances of falling prey to these types of attacks and cyber intrusions. On a macro level and from a business’s perspective, “there’s the perception that they’re not going to be a target. We tend to personally think we are super important, but when it comes to cyber security we seem to think we’re not going to be the target of cyber-attacks for some reason.” This is why Crosby urges firms to make sure their systems are patched and that they have a viable antivirus to reduce the chances of it happening.

As Dipankar Dasgupta and Denise M. Ferebee, authors of the article “Consequences of Diminishing Trust in Cyberspace,” published in the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism 3(3), warn, “If the current trend of cyber exploitation continues, it will be challenging to identify: Information and misinformation; News and propaganda; Software vs. Malware." So then how is the average donor supposed to protect himself?

Crosby concludes that the best way to donate, while mitigating the risk of being scammed, is to go to the website directly of the organization of your choice. To lessen the risk of falling prey to a fraud he further emphasizes:

  • Avoid clicking links or texts claiming to be from those charities and type the web address in yourself or have them bookmarked in your web browser
  • Keep antivirus programs up-to-date
  • Make sure to properly investigate anything you come across, especially when on the internet

If you do happen to fall victim to fraud, without hesitation, go to your attorney general. Secondly, inform the public. Use your local resources, charitable organizations, social media etc. to get word out as quickly as you can in an effort to put an immediate stop to the bad agent(s) in question. This can potentially help prevent it from happening to others.

"It's not a matter of if somebody's going to compromise your network, it's a matter of when your network will be compromised. What happens then? How do you isolate and identify that you've been breached as quickly as you can?"
When asked about personal forecasts in the landscape of cybersecurity Crosby had this to share:

“Technology evolves so fast, it’s next to impossible to predict what’s going to be happening two months from now. Security changes so fast. You have to constantly be evaluating, and re-evaluating the latest events and developments to stay afloat if you want to maximize your online privacy and protection.”

IGI Global would like to give a sincere thank you to Timothy Crosby for taking the time to share his knowledge and expertise with us on the subject of cybersecurity and scams during times of natural disasters. For more information on how to protect yourself from cyber exploitation, be sure to check out the relevant titles below.

Here at IGI Global, our heart goes out to you and your family, faculty, and colleagues for the events that have occurred within the past weeks. Please know that we are thinking about you and your community. As a publisher who values working closely with libraries and understands that this is a challenging time, IGI Global E-Resources is working with universities affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma to provide e-book and e-journal access to all print titles that they own. In the coming weeks as libraries begin to recover and need assistance, please note that we are happy to help. The E-Resources team will provide your university free e-access for all IGI Global print titles through the InfoSci platform, to unlimited users in full-text PDF and XML with no DRM. Contact IGI Global E-Resources at for assistance on providing print titles through the InfoSci platform.

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