Be Careful: Here Are The Latest Hurricane Harvey Frauds, Hoaxes and Scams

Be Careful: Here Are The Latest Hurricane Harvey Frauds, Hoaxes and Scams

At least 37 deaths related to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath have been reported in Texas, according to CNN news. Damage has been estimated at$125 billion — and could be much higher. Lives have been devastated. Help is sorely needed.

Which means you can count on cyber-scammers to exploit every aspect of this tragedy.

And we’re all susceptible, even here in Kane County, IL.

The light-hearted versions probably seem innocuous. By now, most people have heard of the images of sharks in the flood water that have popped up on Twitter.

Other fake photos show planes underwater, which are actually from LaGuardia Airport in New York, and former President Barack Obama at a soup kitchen in Texas, which is actually a photo of him at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving in 2015.

It’s difficult to sort social media truth, because it’s sometimes almost as strange as than fiction. This tweet of gators spotted in a Texas woman’s fenced-in yard during Harvey, is true and substantiated, according to CBS news.

The problem is, “when enough people tweet a photo, it can seem real,” USA Today writes. Which can lead to false images, mistrust of information sources, uncertainty and susceptibility to misinformation, propaganda and outright fraud.

Insurance Scams

Some scams are aimed at homeowners in the flooded areas of Texas and Louisiana but also apply to folks who live here in the wake of the July flooding.

According to the Federal Trade Commission and FEMA, homeowners and renters are getting robocalls telling them their flood premiums are past due. In order to have coverage, consumers are told they need to submit a payment immediately.

Recent flooding in Algonquin. (CREDIT: village of Algonquin)

“Don’t do it,” the FTC says in bold type. Instead, contact your insurance agent. The agent who handles your homeowners or renters insurance policy could be the same agent who handles your flood insurance policy. If your agent can’t help you, contact your insurance company. If you have a policy with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP Direct), call 1-800-638-6620.

If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721. Also report it to the FTC. Your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies bring scam artists to justice and put an end to unfair and misleading business practices.

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Donation Scams

Probably the most widespread scams involve donations.

Don Bryant, the director of Kane County’s Office of Emergency Management, says to follow FEMA’s advise.

“Donate through a trusted organization,” he said.

At the national level, many voluntary-, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. Individuals, corporations, and volunteers, can learn more about how to help on the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) website.

In addition to the national members, The Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster has a list of vetted disaster relief organizations providing services to survivors. Texas VOAD represents more than three dozen faith-based, community, nonprofit and non-governmental organizations.

Also be wary of email attachments that claim they’re links to charitable organizations as these can can contain malware, warned the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. CERT recommends checking with whoever you believed sent the email to make sure they actually sent it. And do so by typing their address in yourself, don’t just hit reply.

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How to Stay Safe

You can also make sure a charitable organization actually exists by going to sites such as CharityNavigator.org, Better Business Wise Giving Alliance or GuideStar.

The Federal Trade Commission has these tips for those who want to give aid:

  • Watch for organizations that are using names that closely resemble better-known, reputable organizations. An example might be givetotheredcross.org rather than redcross.org.

  • Be wary of organizations that won’t provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible.
  • Watch out for those that thank you for a pledge you don’t remember making.
  • Avoid anyone who uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to think about it and do your research.
  • Finally, never give to anyone who asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money.

If you run across a charity which you fear might be a fraud, drop a line to the Department of Justice at disaster@leo.gov, which tracks and works to shut down such scams.

Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of KnowBe4, puts it this way:

“Heads-up! Bad guys are exploiting the Hurricane Harvey disaster. There are fake Facebook pages, tweets are going out with fake charity websites, and phishing emails are sent out asking for donations to #HurricaneHarvey Relief Funds that they keep for themselves. Don’t fall for any scams. If you want to make a donation, go to the website of the charity of your choice and make a donation. Type the address in your browser or use a bookmark. Do not click on any links in emails or text you might get. Whatever you see in the coming weeks about Hurricane Harvey disaster relief… THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK.

SOURCE: Kane County Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, Federal Trade Commission, cbsnews.com,  abcnews.go.com, usatoday.com, Twitter.com, KnowBe4