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Aug 17

Beware of Hurricane Harvey Relief Scams

U.S. federal agencies are warning citizens anxious to donate money for those victimized by Hurricane Harvey to be especially wary of scam artists. In years past we’ve seen shameless fraudsters stand up fake charities and other bogus relief efforts in a bid to capitalize on public concern over an ongoing disaster. Here are some tips to help ensure sure your aid dollars go directly to those most in need.

charityscamThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an alert Monday urging consumers to be on the lookout for a potential surge in charity scams. The FTC advises those who wish to donate to stick to charities they know, and to be on the lookout for charities or relief Web sites that seem to have sprung up overnight in response to current events (such as houstonfloodrelief.net, registered on Aug. 28, 2017). Sometimes these sites are set up by well-meaning people with the best of intentions (however misguided), but it’s best not to take a chance.

The FTC also warns consumers not to assume that a charity message posted on social media is a legitimate, and urges folks to research the organization before donating by visiting charity evaluation sites such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. The agency also reminds people who wish to donate via text message to confirm the number with the source before you donate.

From the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) comes a reminder that malware purveyors frequently use natural disasters and other breaking news items of broad interest to trick people into clicking on malicious links or opening booby-trapped email attachments.

If anyone spots additional recently-registered Harvey-themed relief domains, please drop a note in the comments below.

Update, 11:42 p.m. ET: A reader pointed out a newly-registered domain — harveyfloodrelief[dot]org — that is currently requesting PayPal donations on behalf of Harvey victims.

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46 comments

  1. as a Houstonian, I would strongly recommend the JJ Watt Foundation – especially for anyone hesitant to donate to larger charities:

    https://www.youcaring.com/victimsofhurricaneharvey-915053

    • That URL is bogus.

      And what is YouCaring’s cut for processing the money? 10%?

    • Why are you recommending JJ Watt? He hasn’t even said how he is going to use the money. He hasn’t even started helping anyone. I also wouldn’t recommend the Red Cross. The only ones really helping are churches.

  2. IRS iTunes Card

    The best place to donate would be the Red Cross.

    • Not really. They have a high administrative overhead and not that much reaches the intended recipients.
      A better choice is Samaritan’s Ministries…

      • You are so right! Look at the salaries Red Cross pays their administrators.Never the Red Cross

      • josie RODRIGUEZ

        i agree with you ,i wish people knew about these.it would be nice if the church pastors would inform their congregations about this.

    • IRS iTUNE cards (Number 1 Fan)

      A 5th of what they are given goes to “Administrative costs”: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3277

    • Not to mention the ARC having a DISMAL record with previous disasters in recent years. Just ask victims of Hurricane Sandy and you’ll get very little praise of the Red Cross, or the people of Haiti for whom they collected millions of dollars for and re-built almost no homes at all. It goes all the way back to 9-11 when they said that money collected for the victims wouldn’t “necessarily” go to them but would be held in reserve for future disasters instead. There are some memes going around about the Red Cross that aren’t entirely accurate, but they are hardly trustworthy in terms of a group to give money to. The rule I always follow is find and donate to LOCAL charities, because then you can be 100% sure that the money WILL be used in local efforts and not reallocated for political means, huge CEO salaries, or use for other purposes not related to what you are donating for. http://www.snopes.com/red-cross-charging-victims-hurricane-harvey-disaster-relief-services/

  3. I keep talking about how the deep and wide streak of corruption plagues everything human beings do, yet in spite of it we keep moving forward. Will we ever learn?

  4. I just did a search with DomainTools Phisheye, and there are already 164 domains registered that contain hurricaneharvey, or some form of that.

    • Steven, assuming those are all in the last few days, can you share a list? Thanks.

      • Don’t want to steal Steven’s thunder, but it’s now up over 238 for just “hurricaneharvey”. Not to mention other searches for “harveyrelief” or “harveyflood”.

        Dropbox link to .csv outputs: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/f9zbkrulzpwydrs/AACTHaOZcNsaZkuhLLV3hKbBa?dl=0

      • As of August 30, 2017 here are the number of NEWLY observed FQDNs seen in the DNS and in real time. The numbers are based on actual DNS queries (listed below) that match a particular algorithm (literal, homoglyph – Levenshtein Distance 1). I would guess there are more good actors than bad actors among these new domains. Very interesting to watch new names come online in RT – in the midst of an “Act of God”. Could be the basis for an interesting blog (hurricane destroys, but also a catalyst for new jobs/services).

        Previous 24hrs/Last 24hrs

        360 / 547 for harvey
        19 / 27 / for harveyrelief
        60 / 81 / for hurricaneharvey
        245 / 329 / for hurricane

        No results for “HurricaneIrma”, “Irmarelief”, etc.. as it is still too early.

        PTElder

  5. The article above mentions sites that you can go to for review of charitable donations. You really want to donate to an organization that has low administrative costs, i.e. most of your donation will go to help those in need. I do not recommend The Red Cross at this time; they were under investigation.
    Check:
    http://www.npr.org/2016/06/16/482020436/senators-report-finds-fundamental-concerns-about-red-cross-finances

    • Let me confirm this comment about the Red Cross. The Red Cross is a professional, for profit, organization with paid workers. Most of any money you donate will go to pay the salaries of these workers and NOT into the direct aid that you specify. If you donate money for Houston relief, more likely than not your money will actually go to pay a professional fundraiser in California or pay for the gasoline that goes into a car costing $100,000 being driven by a mid-level Red Cross Executive.

      The charity that uses money most efficiently is the Salvation Army. Period.

      Donate a dollar to the SA and 92 cents will go directly to Houston flood relief. Donate a dollar to the Red Cross and less than 40 cents will be felt in Houston.

      The SA gets most of its money at Christmas time by the bell-ringers in front of the department stores. But you can donate 24×7 online. I do.

      • I absolutely agree with what you said.

      • Amen to that!
        Another trusted charity is Samaritan’s Ministries.

        • Chip,
          Would that be “Samaritans Purse”?
          I once read they went broke helping people affected by a disaster. I don’t recall which one. I guess giving money to help is a good way to go broke!

          • Yes, Samaritan’s Purse…they do have a very good reputation in terms of using the money donated for what it’s intended for. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is another Christian organization with a very excellent reputation). If you prefer non-religious affiliated charities, I always recommend finding and donating to local charities in the area of greatest need. The Houston Food Bank for instance is going to be serving a much higher demand for sometime, as will the United Way of Greater Houston and other surrounding areas. And one of the BEST ways to help is commit to giving money not just now… but keep donating regularly for the next 6 months or year to these kinds of local charities. If you live in the area or can get there, donate blood to local blood donation centers and offer your skills if you are able to work in things like construction, plumbing, electrical work, etc.

      • We donated to the Red Cross for Katrina and were very disappointed with how the funds were reported to be used.

        Never again! The Salvation Army is our choice now.

        • Let alone that at least *half* of the funds donated for 9/11 recovery/relief just went…missing. No real investigation, it was all quietly swept under the rug.

      • Agree that the Red Cross has a significant overhead, but Charity Navigator has it at 10%.

        90% goes to program expenses. Of course, a program expense may be setting trailers and buying computer systems.

        In their defense, they can ramp up and make a big difference in a matter of hours.

  6. I do not think it advisable to donate to the Red Cross. Their staff salaries and overhead are such a high amount that a very small percentage gets to those in need. Secondly, they don’t accept donations from anyone not on their “list”. Are they getting a kickback from these “approved” organizations/companies? Makes me wonder…

  7. I’ve received robo calls on my cell phone with a Houston area code in the past several days.

  8. You can check the charity ratings thru Charity Navagator and donate directly through their site.

  9. I always recommend you check out charity navigator to see how much of your donations go to the cause or “overhead”.

    Also you can phone up and tell the charity you want your donation to go to the relief effort instead of their legal and marketing efforts, and federal fines they are paying for compliance related matters.

    https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5239

  10. That harveyfloodrelief.org blatantly shows :
    denali.losangeles@yahoo.com.
    … seems legit … /sarc

  11. The owner of the new site is

    Registry Admin ID: C196446782-LROR
    Admin Name: Richard Reimer
    Admin Organization:
    Admin Street: 18 E Normandy Dr
    Admin City: Chicago Heights
    Admin State/Province: Illinois
    Admin Postal Code: 60411
    Admin Country: US
    Admin Phone: +1.4243259090
    Admin Phone Ext:
    Admin Fax:
    Admin Fax Ext:
    Admin Email:

  12. It is hard for me to describe the depth of feeling that I have when I read news like this.
    Stealing money that was destined for some family (children) that have probably lost everything. Mostly good hard working people that are now devastated.
    I am not a religious person but I know there is evil in this world.
    Crashing the UK medical system also comes to mind. Putting sick people in a life threatening situation. In a hack like the UK’s, if the perpetrators are caught and there was a loss of life 2nd degree manslaughter or murder should be the charge.
    Disgusting but unfortunately part of the world we live in.

  13. All in all, SA or SM would be the best choices for donation. Another option would be to ask any friends, family friends, or people that you may know from the area and see if there is anything you can do to assist them and their friends personally as well. It’s not an overhead donation, but it is a direct donation that you know will go to good use. I have cousins out in the area and their friends going around with their boats and inner tubes helping their neighbors get from being trapped to back to the main road. They’ve been at this for days.

    Donation is all about research. Always be willing to spend 20-30 minutes researching a company and their HQ before putting in your donation, as well as their ethics to their employees.

  14. A worthwhile Charity is” Operation Blessing International”, an affiliate of CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network). They are often the first relief to arrive on-site and almost never receive media attention. They spend donations wisely, without heavy overhead. Operation Blessing partners with Samaritan’s Purse and other like Charities.

  15. Sadly this would automatically e expected in today’s world!
    At first, I thought you said, Claroty Scam well that is another great story!

  16. Does anyone know if donating to a charity through the Paypal hook up is o.k.? I did it, and picked the Red Cross, not realizing their overhead costs. Is this a legitimate way of donating? Thanks for any info.

    • There’s certainly nothing wrong with donating through Paypal or other sites like YouGiving, but these sites will be collecting administrative fees as part of their service. Of course the same is true anytime a charity takes payment via credit card, although typically it would be a bit less for charities that have their own merchant accounts. The best way to ensure they get 100% of your donation is to mail a check to them directly.

  17. While I think it is important to consider the effectiveness of a charity, I find the objections posted here about the red-cross largely absurd.

    Providing emergency aid is 90% an issue of logistics, which is not something which can be bootstrapped both efficently and quickly. To this end any large and capable emergency relief org able to actually help in a timely manner is going to have significant overhead, and is going to need capable staff and management.

    You want to say they are “only” 60% $->aid, that seems about right in terms of reality.

    You want to tell me other non-governmental aid is 90%+ efficient, I call BS, somebody is cooking the books to get those numbers.

  18. Can’t say I’m the least bit surprised – Twitter’s lack of concern for abuse of their system has been widely known. E.g., since at least 2014, if you use Spamcop to report an EMail that contains a link to a tweet, Spamcop’s “subtle” commentary is to list the reporting address as:

    twitterdoesntcareaboutspamreports[at]devnull.spamcop.net

    http://forum.spamcop.net/topic/14514-twitterdoesntcareaboutspamreports/

    Sadly, that seems to be the norm for large online service providers – whether they be garden variety hosting companies, or social media platforms. Occasionally, as an experiment/test, I’ll keep track of noteworthy spam & check to see how long it takes the providers responsible to deal with the issue – at the moment, that includes 55 days (and counting) for OVH to deal with a (SEO) spam-support site, 38 days (and counting) for Bluehost to deal with a different SEO spam-support site, and 21 days (and counting) for Google to deal with malware hosted on Google drive/docs AND the GMail accounts that are used to send links to them (viruses thinly-disguised as “purchase order” documents).

    It appears that those providers have no interest in dealing with abuse of their network, unless it can be completely automated & requires no effort on their part. This leads to two inevitable issues: one, a large of number of false-positives where badly-written/incorrectly-configured abuse detection tools mistakenly flag legitimate use (once had HostMonster, a Bluehost sub-brand, shut off account because it “too many video files” and they just blindly assumed they were copyright-infringing, when we had actually produced them ourselves). And two, reliance on automated systems makes it incredibly easy to fly under the radar & spam/carry out malicious activity undetected; same as in the saying/joke “You don’t need to run faster than the bear, you just need to run faster than the other guy” – you don’t need to be smarter than the people running the system, you just have to be smarter than most of the other spammers/scammers/skiddies using the same provider (which isn’t exactly a high bar to clear). E.g. with the Google-hosted malware I mentioned, the spammers put the malicious executable files inside less-common archive formats (.ace and .rev), presumably because otherwise Google would detect the malware if they just used something common like .zip or uploaded the EXEs uncompressed.

  19. Are there any legit, non-religious charities out there?

  20. The specific site for JJ Watt’s is: YouCaring.com/JJWatt

    This guy plays for the Houston Texans. Not only is he raising money, he is dedicated to funneling as much possible to the people. He & his teammates will be handing out supplies on Sunday in Houston. He is also asking for donated items in his hometown in WI. I am not a fan of football, but this guy has blown me away by his efforts. I am giving 1/2 my donation to him, and the other 1/2 to Samaritan’s Purse (which is a religious group).

    • While I applaud what JJ is doing, and don’t question at all his motives towards wanting to help, his foundation is pretty new and doesn’t have much of a track record, you won’t find any ratings for it on Charity Navigator for instance, and the amount of money already donated is so massive, it’s hard to know if it will be properly managed and used efficiently, compared to organizations that have a long track record in disaster relief and rebuilding efforts, and have the infrastructure in place to be able to make the best use of tens of millions of dollars. For that reason alone I would encourage people to donate instead to other groups, that they can be assured will use it to best help the people that need it most. Also donating through sites like YouCaring already will mean a sizeable cut of your donation going to that site just for handling of the online donations, and not to JJ’s foundation, so if you still want to give, you may want to just mail them a check instead so they get 100% of your donation.

    • And what is YouCaring’s cut for processing the money? 10%?

  21. Sad but not unpredictable – stick to what has been proven to work. Hoping for the best for those affected by this disaster!

  22. This event was being held for the fema center evacuees coordinated with Fema. After finding that the benefit account was not opened that was required i reported it but they are still holding it. it’s got a personal business email and wrong address. it’s in alexandria la. They never changed the benefiary and have not said who it was for. they were told it was canceled but continues.