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Tsunami scams: Careful when giving to charities online

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Gail Hillebrand: 415-431-6747
Beau Brendler: 914-378-2018


Consumers Union Offers Tips For Consumers To Avoid Email Phishing & Other Scams

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – News reports about scams exploiting the Asian tsunami tragedy have highlighted the need for consumers to use caution when giving to charities online. Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, offered tips to consumers today on how to avoid email phishing scams and ensure that their online contributions are going to legitimate charities.
“Unfortunately, crooks are using the tsunami tragedy to prey on those who want to contribute to relief organizations by stealing their donations and potentially their identities in the process,” said Gail Hillebrand, Senior Attorney with Consumers Union’s West Coast Office. “Consumers are urged to beware email phishing scams and exercise caution when contributing to charities online.”
Phishing is an identity theft scam that is becoming increasingly prevalent according to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. Phishing scam emails are urgent email requests for personal information that appear to come from a legitimate institution or company. The email links to an authentic-looking web page that is used to trick recipients into disclosing personal information such as credit card numbers, home addresses, and other sensitive financial information. One tsunami phishing email scam reportedly lures recipients into making donations to a fake web site.
Those interested in donating to tsunami relief organizations can find a list of legitimate organizations to donate money to at www.usafreedomcorps.gov. To avoid falling prey to phishing and online charity scams, Consumer Reports WebWatch (www.consumerwebwatch.org) urges consumers to keep in mind the following tips:
• Never directly respond to an e-mail asking for personal information.
• If you doubt a message’s authenticity, verify it by contacting the institution yourself.
• Avoid spoofed sites by entering web addresses directly into the browser yourself or by using bookmarks you create.
• Call the charity’s phone number and ask for its registration number, which every U.S.-based nonprofit organization is supposed to have. Then share that registration number with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (http://www.give.org), or the Attorney General’s office in the state in which the nonprofit is located (http://www.naag.org/ag/full_ag_table.php, for each state office’s web site and phone number) to confirm the nonprofit’s validity.
• Pay by credit card rather than debit card online, as credit cards offer the greatest consumer protections in the event of fraud.
• Check to make sure that the web page asking for your credit card information is secure. Look for “https” at the beginning of the url on that page, which indicates it is encrypted for security. You can also see whether a site is secure by looking at the bottom of your browser’s window for an icon of an unbroken key or lock that’s closed, golden, or glowing. Double click on the lock to display the site’s certificate, and make sure it matches the organization you think you are connected to.
• If you think you’ve received a fraudulent spam email, forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov and the Anti-Phishing Working Group at reportphishing@antiphishing.org.

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