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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued an alert warning users to be on the lookout for earthquake relief email scams.

In a post published on Wednesday, Colleen Tressler, a consumer education specialist at the FTC, highlights the growing need for aid following recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador.

Late last week, a series of strong earthquakes in Japan culminated in a 7.0-magnitude quake, killing nearly 50 people. Aftershocks as strong as 6.1 are still being felt by the survivors, who struggled with a shortage of food and water on Wednesday.

Last Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador. At least 570 people were killed, with 155 people missing, 7,015 injured, and 25,000 currently placed in relief shelters. This is the worst natural disaster the country has seen in decades.

ecuador earthquake
UN supporting authorities in Ecuador following strongest earthquake in decades (Source: UN)

Many charities are now attempting to provide aid to the survivors. But as Tressler warns, those looking to donate should spend some time researching whether they are actually giving to a trusted organization.

“Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters who either solicit for bogus charities or aren’t entirely honest about how a so-called charity will use your contribution,” she observes.”

To help people avoid donating to fraudulent charities, the FTC has published the following list of tips:

  • Donate only to reputable charities. People should avoid organizations that have sprung up overnight and that might not provide donors with the option to designate their gift of aid for a specific disaster.
  • Never click on suspicious links or email attachments. If you know the sender personally, contact them by phone or in person to determine whether they actually sent you the link or attachment. Attackers might have hacked their account.
  • Be wary of relief solicitations sent to you via social media or text message. It is safer to donate directly from a legitimate charity’s website.

For more information on fake charity scams, please click here.

News of this warning follows just a few weeks after the FTC issued a separate alert on a new tech-support call scam.