How to avoid phony 9/11 charities

September 9, 2011

There truly is no honor among thieves.

When it comes to scams, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. is just like any other tragedy that callous crooks have taken advantage of. Fact is, from the days following Sept. 11, 2001, thieves have been using the attacks to pocket your cash by either trying take advantage of interest in donating to help those affected or by trying to get money intended to help victims and their families.

More recently, the anniversary has spurred an increase in scams using the attacks as the hook. With the enormous growth in social networking over the past decade, that is where much of the new attempts to con you can be found.

“Unfortunately, we find that in times like these there are some really, really nasty people out there with ill intentions,” said Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Identity Theft 911, which provides identity theft and data breach education and resolution. He warns consumers to be careful of any online solicitations that say: ‘Click on here and see pictures and remember 9/11.'”

Because many of these scams spread through Facebook and Twitter, they aim to steal your personal information — including passwords. “A lot of this has to do with inserting malicious codes in computers,” Levin said.

He warned to be particularly leery of attempts to get you to upgrade your video or picture viewing software, especially when it’s in conjunction with supposedly seeing some images connected to Sept. 11.

Paula Fleming, vice president of the Better Business Bureau in Boston, said there has been a recent uptick in the interest in charities related to Sept. 11. She cautions potential donors to be sure they’re giving to a legitimate organization. “It is wise to be wary,” she said.

“Ask questions about how the money will be spent,” added Janet Hart, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Legitimate charities should be transparent about their fundraising efforts.”

Here are some other tips to help avoid scams that take advantage of interest in what happened on Sept. 11, 2001:

  • Avoid links, particularly on social networks, that claim to have some special photos related to the attacks. Instead, go directly to known sources of news without following the links.
  • Be sure your virus protection and/or malware prevention software is regularly updated and that your computer has the latest security patches provided by Microsoft or Apple, depending on which you use.
  • Don’t just donate to the first charity that comes asking or be fooled by groups with similar names to established charities. Choose who you want to give to and be sure they’re registered with the IRS and check their track record with the BBB, GuideStar or your state office that oversees charities.
  • Don’t send a donation by wiring it, sending it over the phone to a solicitor or via an email link. Make your donation directly by either mailing a check or through the established website of a charity you’ve vetted.
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