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Red Cross E-Mail Confusion

There seems to be some confusion over a statement that someone at the American Red Cross made on a news program last night, to the effect that the Red Cross does not solicit donations via e-mail.

A couple of people have written me asking "what gives?" after receiving an e-mail apparently from the Red Cross directing them to a donation Web site run by Convio, an Austin, Texas-based company that provides online services for nonprofits. One guy told me that after hearing the newscast he canceled a credit-card donation he had just made on the Convio site, for fear that he may have just donated to an online scam artist.

As I noted in yesterday's post, Convio is one of a handful of sites that the Red Cross has authorized to accept donations on its behalf. This is primarily because is trying to distribute the massive Web traffic load generated by so many people trying to reach the site all at once, according to a conversation I had earlier this morning with the organization's chief information security officer.

The official line from the Red Cross is that they are sending solicitations through e-mail to people who have given through their site at some point in the past. If you do not have a prior relationship with the Red Cross, the e-mail you received is most likely linking to a scam site.

But this whole confusion is another great example of why it is a good security practice simply to avoid clicking on links in e-mail. Anytime you receive an e-mail directing you to visit a Web site -- especially one urging you to pull out your credit card -- the safest option is to open up a Web browser window and enter the address of the site manually.

By Brian Krebs  |  September 8, 2005; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
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I sent my donation to the Red Cross and now I am not sure if my money went to the victims or to the speedy guys who collect donation via internet. My family has not money, we are not reach peple. How can I know where is my money? And if this is bad idea to give donation?

Posted by: pudeyeva | September 9, 2005 10:52 AM | Report abuse

To Pudeyeva:

I work for the American Red Cross in the Donor Services Department at National Headquarters. If you contact me at, I can help you track down your donation, to ensure that it did go where you intended. Thanks.


Posted by: Pete Deakin | September 9, 2005 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Don't be so quick to judge the technology. Not even the Red Cross has the infrastructure and software capable of managing complex donation processing. Vendors like Convio, and others are legitimate software services used by large non-profits. These groups depend on stable software, and email solicitation is a legitimate means of collection donations in times of crisis. Telling people to not trust email is irresponsible.

Posted by: Tommy | September 9, 2005 10:59 PM | Report abuse

I never told people not to trust e-mail. I suggested they think twice about clicking on links in e-mail, and encouraged them to type the link in a browser window.

We are seeing e-mails going around asking people to click on links to donate and they are taken to scam sites. There are plenty of browser tricks scam artists can play to make it look like you are at a legit site when you are in fact at a counterfeit site. Also, we have seen links in Katrina help e-mails used to spread malware.

So I don't think telling people to be suspicious of links is irresponsible. If someone wants to donate, it is hard to believe that asking them to open a browser window and typing in a URL is going to stop them.

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 11, 2005 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Here is a bogus site set up to pocket charitable contributions you might THINK you're donating to the Red Cross. Not only that, but it's also set up to resemble a legitimate credit union. Even it's "Contact Us" link looks legitimate ... until you read the "fine print," which states that your personal info is susceptible to being intercepted and fraudulently used (CERTAINLY not by THEM!?). Anyway, their "donation" site is:


Posted by: Gary | September 12, 2005 11:19 AM | Report abuse

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