Cyber-crime – Fake charity websites and current scams

Published on 5 December 2017

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Living in the digital age presents copious opportunities for charities. It makes communication with their supporters easier and offers a more convenient way for supporters to donate. However, it also creates opportunities for criminals. A scam that has recently become more prominent is the use of a fake website.

The RSPCA has recently been in the news for being a victim of cyber-criminals setting up fake websites. The websites advertised fake premium rate ‘0844’ numbers for their cruelty helpline, resulting in a large bill for the caller and gave the false impression of affiliation with the RSPCA by directing the calls to the RSPCA National Control Centre. These scam websites also came up in Google searches relating to the charity.

A fake website could result in losing donor trust and could damage the charity’s reputation as people may be less willing to donate through legitimate websites, or in the case of the RSPCA, make individuals less willing to report animal cruelty by phone, in fear of becoming a victim of cyber-crime. It is therefore, in the best interest of a charity to protect its supporters through simple procedures such as daily searches of themselves on Google. This could ensure that there are not any fake websites publicising false information.

In October this year, the Charity Commission issued a warning about phishing scams, urging charities to be vigilant to protect themselves. This alert comes after an increase in the number of reports of phishing to Action Fraud. Not only could charities be victims of phishing scams but so could their supporters.

Fraudsters could pose as a charity in order to con donors out of sensitive information. The scam could be an email or phone call asking a regular donor to confirm their bank details, and in doing so, giving the details straight to the criminals. Charities could make their supporters more aware of such crimes and inform them publically that they will never ask for personal details over the phone or via email, helping to protect their supporters and their reputation.

Crowdfunding is also becoming increasingly popular with websites such as JustGiving, allowing individuals to easily set up a fundraising page. However, fake fundraising pages have also recently been in the news. Charities should make themselves aware of all those acting on their behalf, using their name, or in anyway claiming affiliation to them on crowdfunding websites; ensuring that there are not any fake or malicious pages. Additionally, they could inform their supporters on how to spot a fake crowdfunding campaign, preventing them from becoming victim to this cyber-crime.

As well as making donors aware of such scams, charities could also make it easier for their supporters to report suspicious activity to them. The charity will then be aware of the scam and could report it to Action Fraud. Alternatively, the charity could have a link on its website to the Action Fraud website where the report could be made directly.

Charities, as well as the public, should take responsibility to spot phishing scams, fake websites, and fake crowdfunding pages. It is in the best interest of a charity to protect its supporters, thereby improving and protecting its reputation.

If you would like to learn more please contact the author, Tracey Becker, on +44 (0)330 124 1399 or on Tracey.Becker@krestonreeves.com.

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