When debate gets especially heated, as it is right now about many hot-button issues, people can be passionate about their opinions. And that’s fine — as long as voicing them doesn’t lead to security risks.
Identity thieves and other criminals are particularly drawn to newsy topics like tragedies, because pleas often go out for donations along with names and addresses on online petitions. While many of these efforts are legitimate, some might be a decoy for financial theft and data gathering.
Here are some common ploys to keep in mind as you’re debating and donating, with tips on staying safe.
- Online petition scams: Thanks to the Internet, anyone can start an online petition about any issue. Unfortunately, criminals like identity thieves can set up fraudulent sites to harvest email addresses and other information. Your details might be used directly for identity theft or sold to other scammers. Even in-person petitions have been linked to petition scam attempts. Tip: As with charities and emails, check out the source and be wary about giving away too many personal details. Adding your name to a legitimate petition is fine, but there’s no reason you should have to give your address, date of birth or other details.
- Charity scams: Just hours after the tragic Orlando shootings, the Better Business Bureau reported that questionable solicitations and click-bait schemes had started, with many more expected. Charity scams are always popular among thieves, especially during the holiday season, and tying them to a newsworthy event or contentious issue preys on emotion. Tip: Check out sites like Give.org and Charity Navigator to find legitimate charities, and think twice if you’re contacted directly by phone or email.
- Phishing: Email newsletters and donation appeals tend to be frequent during an election year. With higher email volume comes a higher chance of phishing scams — or the newest threat, “shmishing,” which is sending scams via text message. Tip: Only open emails from senders you recognize, and even then, avoid opening any attachments or clicking on links. Go directly to an organization’s or news source’s website rather than navigating there through a link in an email or text.
- Personal fundraising appeals: There are thousands of personal appeals online for funds to help those who are going through tough times or need support of some kind. The largest charitable crowdfunding website, GoFundMe.com, reportedly raises nearly $2 million every day. But scammers can take advantage of the fact that these fundraising vehicles are easy to set up. Tip: When directing your funds, do some research on the individuals or situations in question.
Political season or not, it’s always smart to stay aware of potential scams. When giving your opinion or your charitable donations, do some double-checking first to make sure you’re protected.