Hurricane Ian charity scams are out of control. Here’s what you need to know.

As Americans open their hearts and wallets to help Hurricane Ian victims – who serve to provide food, shelter and care to those affected by the devastating hurricane – scammers are playing on your emotions for you. scam.

In fact, the FBI office in Tampa has tweeted a warning about “scammers trying to use a natural disaster like Hurricane Ian to steal your money, personal information, or both.”

In some cases, Florida residents are approached by door-to-door solicitations by bogus charities or property insurance scams, while others across the country are receiving cold calls, text messages, emails or social media posts asking donors to dig deep for the victims of Hurricane Ian. .

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Before you put a hand in your pocket, however, the bureau says it’s essential to do your due diligence to make sure it’s a legitimate charity — or that the person approaching you does. really part of the legitimate charity.

Warning signs of charity scams

While fraudsters target victims year-round, they often pair it with something timely for maximum impact, whether it’s phishing attempts during tax time, scams romance around Valentine’s Day, pandemic schemes, wars (as we saw with the Ukrainian aid scams this past spring), or in the aftermath of natural disasters.

To avoid falling victim to a scam, the FBI has listed several tips to follow and red flags to look out for, as well as advice from the Federal Trade Commission).

Here are the main points to remember, along with some additional tips to avoid being duped:

►Be aware that charity fraud can take many forms. Be sure to gently remind your loved ones – including older people you are close with, as they are often targeted – not to donate unless they do their homework. Criminals will call, send bogus texts and emails, private message you on Facebook and other social platforms, or pretend to be part of a crowdfunding campaign. They can also go door to door with a clipboard and a smile.

►A warning sign is pressure to be given immediately. A legitimate charity will welcome your generous donation whenever you choose to do so.

►The FBI warns that unethical contractors and other scammers can commit insurance fraud in the wake of a natural disaster or other emergency, essentially re-victimizing people whose homes or businesses have been damaged. If you need repairs after a disaster, do your research before hiring a contractor.

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►Donate only to charities or established groups whose work you know and trust. If it’s an unknown organization but you still want to donate, go to their website and ask to see the financial information. The FTC also recommends searching for the name of a charity with terms such as “complaints” and “scam.”

►Don’t think you can spot scams because of emails or websites with misspellings, clumsy wording or bad grammar. These were once clues to fraud, but the scammers are getting more and more sophisticated.

►Be aware of organizations with copycat names or names similar to reputable organizations (“American Red Cross” instead of “American Red Cross”). If the person is approaching you to make a donation on behalf of a reputable charity, ask for proof that they work or volunteer for that particular organization.

►A common tactic is to receive a thank you for a previous donation you don’t remember, then ask if you can help again.

►Only donate with a credit card. If a charity or organization is asking you to donate cash, gift card, virtual currency/crypto, or wire transfer, it’s likely a scam. Indeed, these payment methods are difficult to trace.

►You can report fraud to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has seen an increase in scams related to Hurricane Ian – from door-to-door scammers to email and texting programs to fake AirBnb listings.

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Adopt a good “cyber hygiene”

Some additional suggestions to adopt (and share with others) to reduce the risk of someone stealing your money or personal information:

Just click “Delete”: Be wary of attachments in email, text messages, or sent on social media. They may contain malware. Be equally careful with links to a website. If you accidentally click and land on a page that’s supposed to look like, say, Facebook – it might have a similar blue logo and a familiar layout – you’ll see that the website name in the link at the top of the page is different. Delete these messages as soon as they arrive in your inbox. Hang up on robocallers and block the number.

Change your password often: Many of us are guilty of not changing passwords regularly or using the same password for most or all online activities. A trusted password manager app can help. Although it’s less convenient, enable two-factor authentication as well. This way, you’ll not only need your password to log in to your online activity, but also a one-time code sent to your mobile device to confirm that it’s really you.

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Enable automatic updates: This way, your desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet operating systems are updated whenever software patches to vulnerabilities are released. Along the same lines, be sure to use computer virus protection software and keep it up to date.

Limit your circle: Never accept a social media invite from someone you don’t recognize – or, worse, a faceless “Facebook user”. Keep your account closed to friends only, whom you individually control.

Distress regimes are multiplying: Beware of “grandparent scams”, in which you receive a message or phone call that appears to be from a relative saying that the loved one needs money due to a situation in which they found himself. If in doubt, reach out to the person you know outside of social media.

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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