When hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis unleash their fury, we see heartbreaking accounts of the damage and the aftermath as residents try to re-build their lives. Thanks to a 24-hour news cycle, we see more than numbers and statistics; we oftentimes meet the individuals whose lives have been torn apart and who very much need help from the global community. Using your cyber super powers for good means that, thanks to technology, you can click a button and send financial support to a stranger in need. But, sadly, doing good can be a complicated venture. The money you send to support a disaster response fund can, in reality, be supporting a cybercriminal!

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has issued warnings to be alert to malicious cyber activity that appear after a major natural disasters that contain links or attachments that direct users to malicious websites. This means that you need to be careful when reading any social media pleas or emails with a disaster-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink.

Before giving to a charity, ask questions and do some research before donating. You do not need to respond to pressure to give quickly. A legitimate charity will be happy to get your donation at any time. Take your time and do the research.

  • Ask for the charity’s exact name, web address, and mailing address, so you can confirm it.
  • Search the charity’s name online plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.” If you find red flags, find another organization to give to.
  • Check out the charity’s website. Does it give information about the programs you want to support, or how it uses donations? How much of your donation will go directly to support the programs you care about? If you can’t find detailed information about a charity’s mission and programs, be suspicious.
  • Watch out for solicitations that give lots of vague and sentimental claims, but give you no specifics about how your donation will be used.
  • Use one of these organizations to help you research charities:
  • See what your state’s charity regulator has to say about the charity. Don’t know who that is? Look it up at org.
  • Ask if your donation will be tax-deductible. Not every call seeking a donation is from a charity. You can make sure that your donation is to a charity and tax-deductible by looking up the organization in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. If tax deductions are important to you, remember that donations to individuals are not tax deductible.
  • If you get a donation request through social media or a crowdfunding site, keep in mind that crowdfunding sites often have little control over who uses them and how donations are spent. The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you know who contact you about a specific project. Don’t assume solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate, or that hyperlinks are accurate — even in posts that are shared or liked by your friends. Do your own research. Call your friends or contact them offline to ask them about the post they shared.
  • You can always go directly to a charity’s website and donate directly that way.

If you’re ready to donate:

  • Be careful how you pay. If someone asks you to pay by giving them the numbers from a gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. That’s how scammers ask you to pay. It’s safest to pay by credit card or check.

After you’ve donated:

  • Review your bank account and credit card statements closely to make sure you’re only charged the amount you agreed to donate — and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation.
  • Keep a record of all donations.

If you notice any red flags, pay attention and don’t support that cause. If you think you’ve been contacted by a scam charity, tell the FTC: FTC.gov/Complaint. And, if you believe you have been a victim of cybercrime, file a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

Thank you to the Savvy Cyber Kid’s sponsors!

Interested in becoming a Savvy Cyber Kids sponsor? Email Ben Halpert.