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Watch Out for Scams Disguised As Fundraisers for Australia’s Bushfires

A new low for the world’s scammers is creating fake charities or posing as relatives of victims of the fires.
January 10, 2020, 8:15am
australia bushfires
SAEED KHAN / AFP

The world’s eyes remain on Australia this week, as the country continues to experience the rapid bushfires that have damaged 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land and killed at least 24 people since September.

Celebrities, businesses, and athletes have stepped in to make huge donations. Regular folks have done the same through social media platforms like GoFundMe and Facebook.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a good Samaritan. It seems that some people have instead exploited the cause.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Scamwatch have reported a spike in scams around the bushfire crisis over the past few months, prompting them to issue a statement on Tuesday warning about the risks when donating.

The ACCC told ABC that they had received 86 reports of bushfire-related scams since September 2019, including 20 calls to the scams hotline.

"Scammers are pretending to be legitimate well-known charities, creating their own charity names, and impersonating people negatively impacted by the bushfires," the ACCC statement said.

In one case, scammers set up a GoGetFunding page, a legitimate fundraising platform, and claimed to be a relative of a bushfire victim. The page raised almost $4,000 from 59 people before it was reported and stopped. It's not just online. The Victorian Government confirmed that scammers have also been knocking on homes, seeking donations. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) has also warned about scammers posing as skilled manual workers offering help with insurance claims.

Making a secure donation

The ACCC has asked donors to be wary the following:

  • Fake websites and social media pages that claim to be raising funds for bushfire support
  • Direct messages on social media asking for support and linking to a specific donation page
  • Cold-calls from people pretending they are from charities and asking for donations
  • Street fundraising

The commission also recommended for donors to read a funding platform's terms and conditions before giving money, to make sure it's a legitimate service. Australia’s official charities and not-for-profit organisations are listed on the Australia Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register.

For online donations, it’s important to make sure that it is done through a secure service, usually indicated by a padlock symbol and https:// at the start of the website URL. Phone donations should only be done through the official number of a charity.

What if you’ve already been scammed?

Those who think they’ve been scammed can contact their bank to stop or refund the transaction. Sharing the experience on social media will prevent others from falling for the scam too. The ACCC has also set up a dedicated phone line for people to report scams around the bushfires. Call (+61) 1300 795 995 or file a report on the Scamwatch website.

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