When natural disasters strike, con artists prey on those looking for details and hoping to help. Alaska, Oregon, and Western Washington consumers should watch out for scams that often circulate when natural disasters occur, such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.
Scammers were quick to respond to the tsunami that hit Samoa and surrounding islands on Sept. 29.
Con artists used search engines and social media sites to trick those gathering information about the tsunami into downloading possible viruses. Rogue anti-virus scammers used Twitter trend topics and search engine optimization techniques to ensure that their Web sites were among Google's top results for searches about the Samoa tsunami—Hawaii's BBB found malicious links in the first 10 search results.
Clicking on a malicious search result related to the tsunami can produce a very authentic-looking warning that the computer is infected, which will launch a fake anti-virus scan. Attempts to stop the scareware attack by clicking to cancel or closing the window may result in more pop-up windows with even more menacing warnings. Eventually, users are prompted to install a program that likely contains a virus or other harmful files.
To help protect against these malicious online scams, BBB recommends that consumers maintain their computers with current critical operating system updates, anti-virus software, and ensure that all security patches and updates are installed for the Web browser and other Internet-based programs. Scareware attacks can happen anywhere pop-up ads occur or links are shared, including trusted news sites, search engine results, and social media programs.
BBB also encourages consumers to look out for fly-by-night disaster relief charities. While many requests to help those affected by natural disasters are on behalf of legitimate charities, the generous and good-hearted are susceptible targets for fly-by-night organizations.
Through BBB Foundation, your BBB offers its Charity Review and Charity Seal Program to warn about false charity solicitations and assist potential donors in finding reliable local charities and organizations. BBB's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability cover how an organization is governed, ways it spends money, truthfulness of its representations, and its willingness to disclose basic information to the public. Always check out the charity with BBB before making a donation; comprehensive Charity Reports are free at www.bbb.org/charity.