The issue, as you may have guessed, is the frequency with which the special needs community is getting scammed through false organizations and individuals, who prey on our desire to help our children. We've put together a little dialogue that we hope will be helpful in learning to protect ourselves as thoroughly as we protect our children. The truth of the matter is this: if we don't protect ourselves, no one else will. Each comment will be followed by the initials of the author, and we welcome comments and questions from all. Please be respectful in your comments, or they will be deleted. There is enough drama and cat fighting. We don't need more.
And now, welcome to our conversation!
1. Do you think the Special Needs Parenting Community as a whole is vulnerable to cyber scammers?
Yes, I do. I think we are easily targeted for a number of reasons. We are fighters. We are strong. We have to be so, to advocate for our children. People desiring to scam us love this attribute, because they don’t have to teach us to work toward the goal. We are focused, as every parent is, in getting whatever our child/children needs. We hit so many dead ends, we are told “No” so many times in so many different ways that we love it when someone says yes. There is a veritable target on our backs. I don’t mean that we are stupid. Certainly we are not. We are intelligent, we work hard, and we fight for what we believe in. And, let’s face it, people. We like to talk. If we find something we think is awesome for our kids, it’s all over the twitter and the facebook the very same day. What scammer wouldn’t love any of that?! Not only that, those of us that blog are only too happy to blog about our good fortune, because we want others to benefit as well. This is a win/win for a scammer. People who will promote online, at their own expense of time and effort, with no cost to the scammer but one or two iPads or a couple of apps, and then they never have to make good again. They already have all the good exposure they need. It’s scary how easy we have made it for the slime balls of the internet. CH
2. What are some “red flags” that somebody might be scamming you?
Generally, I follow the “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” rule. Someone asking you for money when offering a “free” product or service such as purchasing a raffle ticket or forking over a nominal fee to “keep your reservation valid” is a sign of a scam. Likewise, someone asking you to write a blog post, collect donations, or generate votes to qualify your child for a free service dog, for instance, is a sign of a scam. CH
Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s likely that it isn’t, so ask questions. Who are these people? Where are they located? Do they have any other sources of funding? Do they have (valid) testimonials and references? A huge red flag is if you ask direct questions and consistently do not get direct answers. If they can’t provide you with valid financial information, or they refuse to provide any personally identifiable information about themselves: be careful. Scammers are like politicians; they will talk around the issue, touching on their key “talking points,” but they will rarely ever actually answer your question directly. A reputable organization will be easily able to provide you with whatever you need to know to prove their validity. Jill
Also, anybody who requires any money from you, in any form (i.e. directly from you, solicited by you, etc.) before you can proceed with an application process is definitely scamming you. Trustworthy organizations will not require that you pay to complete an application process. Jill
3. How can you protect yourself?
I’m sorry, but someone offering a “free” iPad or service dog or therapy or miracle “cure” for autism just doesn’t ring like the real deal to me. I’m a BIG believer in doing my homework. Read the fine print. What strings are attached? What commitments are they asking from you? Are they registered as a 501 3(c)? If so, have they been reported at any time in any way? Are they registered with the BBB? Is it a company, foundation, or individual? Are they based in your country or somewhere you’ve never heard of in Bangladesh? Do they offer transparency if they are a donation based company? Will they provide statements to anyone who asks? Are the founders or other officials easily accessible to their followers by chat, message board, email, facebook, twitter, or corporate phone number? Is there a message board/review panel of any kind for feedback from people who have worked with this person or company in the past? Does the person or company bash other similar entities regularly? These are questions you should ask yourself before becoming involved with ANY internet based company or foundation. CH
4. What to do when you have already been scammed, or private info has been published on social networking sites?
There are many ways to protect yourself on facebook and twitter. Both sites have very firm TOS (Terms Of Service) in place to protect their users, its just a matter of finding where to do all of this. LG
First you can report any and all comments you feel are attacking you in any way. You need to make sure that you first screen shot for proof later because once a comment or post is reported it is removed. I find it much easier to watch a video of what I should be doing and this google search has all the info for how to screen shot on various devices. LG
On twitter there is a way to report people twitter has a really handy page that is clear as how to report a number of violations of their TOS. In addition you have to give them the url to the post so make sure you click on details in the tweet, that will open to a new page and give you the url to give to twitter. LG
On Facebook you can find out lots about your account in your general account setting tab. From there click on security settings. On that page is a wealth of info in regards to what, when and who has had access to your account that you may not have known about. LG
From that page it is easy to click on the help button towards the bottom of the page, there you can report violations from harassment, to copyright infringement, and intellectual property infringement. Because even as a fan page you have rights on facebook just like everyone else. LG
For more information on cyber crimes, how to report them, and definitions of cyber crimes, please visit the following websites:
Cyberstalking: What it is and what you can do as a victim
Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the United States Department of Justice
What Are Your Legal Rights?
Image in this post from Google images