January 15, 2010 – Chicago, IL – A major security software company, Symantec Corp., said it spotted a suspicious e-mail with the subject line "Make Your Donations Now," claiming to be from the British Red Cross Society. The e-mail, which has several spelling errors, asks for donations on behalf of Haiti. It also asks people to wire the money through a Western Union money transfer. The British Red Cross Society has confirmed that they never sent out such an e-mail.
"As we’ve seen before, scammers are quick to target potential donors during a crisis or natural disaster,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “The loss is not just your money, but releasing your personal information makes you vulnerable to identity theft as well.”
In the wake of the earthquake disaster in Haiti, Americans are donating via text message, as one method, more than ever before. The Better Business Bureau advises donors that giving through text can be a safe and easy way to give—but you should still use caution.
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has compiled a list of charities which are seeking to provide assistance in response to the earthquake in Haiti and meet BBB Standards for Charity Accountability at http://www.bbb.org/us/haiti
Within days following the disaster in Haiti, it was widely reported that more than $8 million was donated through text messages to such organizations as the Red Cross and others.
“It’s encouraging that Americans are making small donations through text messages,” said Bernas. “An incredible amount of money will be needed to address the crisis in Haiti and charities will certainly welcome gifts made through any means available. However, donors should still do their due diligence to make sure their money is going to trustworthy charities.”
The BBB offers the following tips on giving through text messages:
- Confirm the number directly with the source. While the BBB has not yet heard of any scams relying on text message donations, this emerging method for donating is ripe for exploitation by scammers.
- Never fill out forms in messages that ask for personal or financial information, or passwords, because a reputable charitable organization is unlikely to ask for such data via e-mail.
- If you want to make donations online, avoid clicking on links in e-mail or instant messaging messages because these could lead to spoofed Web sites.
- Be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, text donations can take anywhere from 30-90 days to be transferred to the designated charity. If you would like the donation to be received immediately by the charity, you can give online through the charity Web site, by calling the charity directly or by sending a check in the mail; be sure to check the URL address at the top of the page before donating.
- Review the fine print. When you give to a charity through text message, you might also be signing yourself up to receive text message updates from the charity in the future. A charity should include the details of its text campaign on its Web site so you can see what you’re signing up for and how you can opt out.
- Research the charity. Giving wisely to a charity isn’t just about making sure that the solicitation isn’t coming from scammers. Wise donors make sure their donations are going to charities that are best equipped to help in the relief efforts and will responsibly use the money for its intended purpose.