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May 19, 2008

Disaster Charity Spam

Our planet has many ways of reminding us how small-minded we humans can be while we pay undue attention to ideologies and arbitrary dotted lines on maps. A shifting fault line or a swooshing patch of atmosphere demonstrates to those immediately affected by the disaster what is really important to a citizen of Earth. Thanks to today's instant media, others around the world get to see what's happening, even from remote locations.

The natural desire to help those in need remains strong. Every major disaster triggers an outpouring of humanitarian aid from individuals who feel they should "do something" to help, even if just to send some money for relief work.

Waving that money in the air is like waving a raw steak in the middle of a tiger preserve. The aroma will attract any creature with a "nose" for the scent. In the case of dangling donation money, scammers are ready to pounce on potential donors. And spam is an easy way for scammers to reach potential targets in high volume, in record time, and at a cost approaching zero.

Anyone who responds to a solicitation for disaster relief donations from an unknown organization is just begging to be scammed. It's not uncommon for scammers to set up bogus organizations or "funds" with names that reference a specific in-the-news disaster by name. Each disaster yields hundreds of web site domain name registrations—with names referencing the disaster. It all sounds very grass-rootsy ad hoc and kosher, but I wouldn't trust a single one of them that solicits by spam.

If you have donated in the past to a legitimate charity, you may receive an email from that charity tied to a specific recent disaster. Scammers can hide behind these types of appeals, as well, forging the From: field of a message to make it look as though the message comes from a well-known and trusted charity. If the message contains a link or URL, don't believe it, or click it. To make a donation, visit the site preferably by a previous bookmark; or use your favorite search engine to locate the legitimate site.

For major disasters, you can check with the web sites of your local radio and TV stations, as well as cnn.com (the Impact section), where approved charities are listed. If you want to check the credentials of a particular U.S. charity, you can look it up in the Better Business Bureau National Charity Report Index, a handy resource to bookmark for future reference.

Taking advantage of people with good hearts who want to help those in desperation is pretty damned low. It compounds the disaster by not only scamming good people out of hard-earned money, but also preventing that money from helping the primary victims. What really aggravates me is that it's the scammers who sleep soundly at night. Sheesh!

Posted on May 19, 2008 at 03:10 PM