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October 31, 2012

You can avoid being scammed in donating to Hurricane Sandy victims

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The many pictures and news reports of massive destruction and loss of life and property from Hurricane Sandy is triggering an urge for people to help. But it's important that donors know where their money is actually going, says a Purdue University cybersecurity expert.

"We've seen it time and again, and con artists and scammers are continually coming up with advanced methods to take people's money through contributions - often online," says Eugene H. Spafford, professor and executive director of CERIAS - Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security.

Researchers at CERIAS know that criminals will take advantage of the most tragic of circumstances, counting on people's sense of urgency to "do something" to overcome their normal caution, Spafford says.

"Be alert to fraudulent but sincere-sounding appeals for aid from hurricane victims or from what appear to be charities," he says. "These solicitations may be sent as email to you or a group to which you belong, as postings or messages on a social newsgroup such as Facebook or Twitter, as a phone call from someone soliciting donations, or as a website to which you are directed or that pops up when visiting a site."

Some of these fraudulent appeals will sound convincing, and the associated websites will appear official and legitimate.

Here are some tips from CERIAS on how to avoid being scammed, now and at other times:

* Do not enter any information at a Web page that pops up unexpectedly when you visit some other site.

* Never click on a website address in email sent to you; it may look official, but most will be pointers to fraud or attack sites.

* Don't assume that every Web address returned by a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing) is a legitimate organization.

* Do not respond to emails requesting donations or making a special offer (such as asking you to hold their assets).

* Do not reveal any personal or financial information during a phone call you did not dial yourself.

* If a friend forwards a URL, phone number or email, don't trust it until you check its validity. Your friend may have been scammed first.

Spafford recommends the American Red Cross, available online at http://www.redcross.org, as a reliable charity for domestic disaster relief.

CERIAS is the nation's premier interdisciplinary academic center for research and education.

For more information, contact Spafford at 765-494-7825, or visit the CERIAS website at http://www.cerias.purdue.edu/

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Source: Eugene Spafford, 765-494-7825, spaf@purdue.edu