In devastating times, we expect compassion and an outpouring of emotion.
Disaster fraud, an all-encompassing term to cover both on and offline fraud of individuals post-catastrophe, covers issues such as: price-gouging, fake charitable solicitations, contractor fraud, property insurance fraud and forgery.
In terms of Cyber-fraud, the majority of these criminal acts fall under bogus charitable solicitations, contractor fraud and forgery, although it can spill over into other areas.
Frauds online started as the fresh winds started pre-Katrina. This was shown through the eventual and far reaching lawsuit filed in Florida accused Robert E. Moneyhan of registering multiple Katrina-related domain names, before the Hurricane had even started. Moneyhan's sites asked visitors to click to "donate", obviously to him.
By Sept. 1, ScamBusters noted dozens of Katrina Internet spam plans hatching.
Why do Cyber Criminals wait for the Disasters to exploit?
Because there is so much money, of course.
9% of all U.S online users (13 million people) donated online for Katrina and Rita relief. When we engage virtually, with the disasters themselves we are online more frequently, on less secured sites and ready to act impulsively with our credit cards. The FBI predicted there were around 4,000 fraudulent Web sites that existed to raise money for Katrina Relief.
Following the recent fires in California and hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, there was a phenomenal increase in phishing scams aimed at stealing personal data and cash.
Using email, social media and web searches, hackers hone in on the different channels they can point their malicious URLS at, such as Facebook or Twitter pages, dedicated to relief efforts. Emails with content on how to offer disaster relief come with malicious links to boot and Fake Facebook pages are set up and linked to crowdfunding sites for donations.
And that's just the donors.
Victims are under pressure and less cautious. Insurance fraud and forgery, one thing heavily mentioned in the press, where fictitious claims of damages are made to Insurance companies, is only one small part of the bundle.
There are sky-high figures on the stolen details from victims - used to collect their benefits (through Identity theft) and fake Contractors, such as repairmen who collect with no intention of fixing the damaged properties. Fraudulent Psychological services have also been set up, usually online, to help or rather steal from the victims and the lists go on.
There seems to be no limit to what people will do to take advantage of disaster situations.
To help protect yourself from these scams, be aware that hackers are following the news stories just like you are and of course be wary of unsolicited mails. Any link that redirects you to another site, is one to be very cautious of. These specifically apply to social media link, type the link directly into your web browser instead.
If you don't know the registered Charity already, chances are, there may be an issue and If you can't authenticate the website and Charity number, look for a different way to contribute.
Sad as it may seem, most natural disasters will be used by Internet criminals and will be part of a phishing scam. After Katrina, Harvey, the Asian Tsunami and hundreds of terrorist attacks we witnessed over the past two decades, both manmade and natural disasters have brought communities and international neighbors closer.
On the downside, they have allowed Fraudsters to get far closer to our pockets and given ideal opportunities to commit disaster fraud. Whilst news reporters are busy interviewing victims and trying to rally the public, cyber criminals are hatching new and more creative ways to capitalize on 'crisis-defenselessness'.