I don’t think you’d need to be a rocket surgeon to guess that Chile Earthquake Scams are already well underway. I once posed the hypothetical, “How long does it take a crook to turn something into a scam, four minutes?”
Turns out I wasn’t giving the con artists enough credit. My new estimate is 30 seconds.
The same rules apply here as when dealing with possible Haiti Earthquake Scams. Be extremely wary of unsolicited charity donations. The best way to help is to contact your favorite organization first and turn down all other requests.
There is a short article on the topic at Scambusters that identifies a couple additional threats beyond fake charities, and both involve malware.
Basically, if a stranger sends you alleged photos of the earthquake damage, do not open these attachments because they are infected with a virus. In fact, don’t even open the message at all. There is plenty of footage coming in through official news sources.
Also, beware of fake news stories that come up in search engines. These can lead to websites that are infected with malware as well. According to the Scambusters article, these sites were up within hours of the earthquake. Just go directly to your favorite news source’s website and get your information from there. Many will even have a list of trustworthy resources if you want to donate to relief efforts.
I haven’t seen any specific scams of this type yet, so think of this as one of those “you know it’s going to happen, so be prepared” moments: The FBI is already warning consumers about possible Haiti Earthquake Scams. Le sigh.
Here’s the deal—if you get an unsolicited (you didn’t request it) email requesting donations for victims of the recent Haitian earthquake, or if someone contacts you via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) asking for help, just don’t respond. The odds that it is a scam are just too high to risk it.
If you are approached by a charity you believe is legitimate, ask lots of questions. If they’re honest, they won’t mind providing information. However, I still wouldn’t donate to these requests, either.
If you really want to help, contact an organization you already know and trust, and donate without them asking you first. Make sure you’ve got the name of the organization correct before you act—scam charities sometimes change one small word in the name of a well-known charity in an attempt to confuse people.
There is a long list of organizations involved in relief efforts here, from MSNBC. I’m not familiar with most of these, and I’m not endorsing any one in particular or vouching for what they do.
We are in an age where every natural disaster, every new government action and every new technology is immediately assimilated by criminals looking for easy money. If you want to help out in Haiti, contact your favorite charity today. Don’t wait for someone to ask.