TECH TUESDAY: Fort McMurray and the Hot Bed of Online Scams

Forest Fire



With every tragedy comes opportunity. The opportunity to learn, to rebuild, to do things better, and to prove that people around the world will rush to the help of their fellow man. At the beginning of this month, a wildfire broke in Alberta, Canada that quickly spread to a size 25% larger than New York City. The fire aptly named “The Beast” raged across more than 1500 square kilometers by May 6, and threatened to double in size within 24 hours on account of dry, windy conditions. Over 88,000 people have been evacuated from the Fort McMurray area, and Saskatchewan is bracing for the worst as The Beast creeps towards their border. Combatting the blaze are a combined force of nearly 2000 firefighters both on the ground and in the air.   

Tragic events such as this can uproot and devastate communities, but they also can bring people together. The opportunity to do what is right, what is good. Sadly, though, these sort of tragedies bring with them another kind of opportunity. Hidden amongst that crowd of good citizens are heartless opportunists who see another’s tragedy as their chance to make a quick buck.

Whenever natural catastrophes like these occur, emails and websites from bogus charities quickly appear, providing links to graphic videos or photos of the event and offering action items calling for donations. Appealing to those caring, nurturing impulses, clicking on the provided links lead to malicious web sites looking to steal your personally identifiable information or install malware designed to track your online activity and transactions. This may sound inconceivable in light of the terrible destruction plaguing Ft. McMurray; but within 24 hours, scams like this began cropping up. (Like wildfire, if you will.) Evan Kelly of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for Mainland BC states “I’ve seen a lot of fake Red Cross phishing emails come across my desk. The Red Cross never solicits for money in this way.”

It is difficult to grasp how heartless people think of human tragedy and suffering as a lucrative opportunity. However, there is a powerful lesson to be learned: Scammers devote time to these kind of frauds because they work. Malicious hackers count on people falling for whatever they’re peddling, especially if it involves emotionally charged subject matter like disaster relief, in order to make it financially worth their while.

Business concept of internet scamYou can still make a difference though without exposing yourself or your friends to fraudulent causes. Before you click on that “Donate” button, take just a few more seconds to consider the following:

  • Is the website you’re making your donation through the real thing or just a fake lookalike? The best way to ensure you’re on the correct website is to carefully type in the URL or domain name yourself, and not rely solely on email or Facebook links.
  • On that note, most legitimate charities will not aggressively send out email to you unless you have agreed to be on their mailing list. If you want to find a charity that is providing relief to a cause, carry out a Google search or check with reliable news agencies. News reports will often provide links to certified charities.
  • Before making a donation, remember to review any charity with BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance to verify that a charity meets the BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • Give only to charities you know and trust, and preferably direct through their website rather than in response to a phone call or mail solicitation.

Scammers should never stop you from being human and wanting to help those in need. Don’t let them.

Be careful. Be vigilant. Be a hero.

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