5 Tips for Spotting Hurricane Harvey Scams

In the chaos of a natural disaster, asáeveryone rushes to help, misinformationáinevitably begins to circulate. Sometimes it’s benign and distributed with the best of intentions, like an outdated phone number or erroneous information about shelter locations. But ináother instances, people are actively trying to profit from the misfortune of others.

Here are some quick tips forávetting information in any emergency:

  • Try to get information from governmentáagencies directly — through their websites or information hotlines, as well asáverified social media accounts.
  • Check websites run by nonprofits and NGOs to learn more about what they’re doing for disaster response and what kind of help they need.
  • Be wary of newsáthat’s only coming from one source,, or an unsourced assertion on social media.
  • If you donate to crowdfunding campaigns, seek those run by the beneficiaries themselves. Look for campaigns with lots of details, and verify names against internet profiles to confirm that the individuals are, in fact,áreal people. Consideráusing a reverse image search to see if the pictures are original and legitimate, or reused from somewhere else.

Watch out for the following scams as the nation responds to Hurricane Harvey, so you can stay on your toes.

1. Fake Photos

A shark swimming along a highway, an alligator in the driveway, planes on a flooded tarmac and so much more: A lot of the imagesápurporting to be from Hurricane Harvey actually aren’t. Some are photo-manipulated, and othersáoriginate from prior natural disasters. You can use a reverse image searcháto confirm that a given photoáthe real deal.

2. Cities Shutting Off Utilities

Several cities, including Houston and Corpus Christi, have been hit with scams claiming that city officials are shutting off utilities, or that water is unsafe to drink. While cities in some parts of Texas are under a boil water order, utilities remain on. And unless specified, water is safe to drink.

Thoseáconcerned about drinking water safety can contact 311 or a local non-emergency number for clarifications. Social media accounts run by municipal utility districts may also offer up-to-date information about water quality.

3. Restrictions on Reentry

After an evacuation, officials may limit reentry for public safety, but they widely publicize this information. A claim that Corpus Christi was restricting or denying access to the city was blatantlyáincorrect.

4. Phishing Scams

In the wake of tragedy, it’s not uncommon for charities to send out emails soliciting donations, but take the time to verify that an appeal is linked toáa real charity. Visitátheir website or call directly to donate, and be aware that malicious groups sometimes pick names similar to those of real charities in an effort toámislead people. Unfortunately, personal appeals for help from unknown individuals should be viewed as suspicious. Organizations like Guidestar and Wise Giving allow you to quickly vet charities.

5. Fake News

Whether it’s distributed with an intent to cause harm or it’s an innocent repeat of bad information, fake news is a real problem. Before sharing information, take the time to verify that it’s correct by using some of the tips above.

Be wary of information posted on known fake news sites, and always consider the source of news and the agenda behind it. Ifáa news source known to be biased reports on “looting” byálow-income people of color, for example, that news might not be legitimate.

Photo credit: Texas Military Department/Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD


Marie W
Marie W11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

joan silaco
joan silacoabout a year ago


Angela Acone
Angela Aconeabout a year ago


Kelly L
Kelly Lawsonabout a year ago

Nice to know

Olga Troyan
Olga Troyanabout a year ago

These are really good tips for spotting scams in general.

Anna ┼
Anna ┼about a year ago


Carol S
Carol Sabout a year ago

Good info, bad people :(

Margie F
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Why are people on the make?

Renata B
Renata Babout a year ago

Greed and callous stupidity have no boundaries in human species.

Sandra V
Sandra Vabout a year ago