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Mutual Aid Group Members: Keep Your Sensitive Information Safe

Offering help and seeking help online can be great ways of coping through this pandemic.  But mutual aid groups have some risks you need to know about.

First off, be aware that most mutual aid groups are informal groups of volunteers.  They band together to find effective ways to support people in need in their local community.  “Support” can mean many things: picking up groceries, providing financial help, or lending an ear to a neighbor who needs to talk, for example. 

As these community sites are volunteer-driven and community-based, do not assume they carry the same kind of website security or privacy as commercial or private websites (like a business). Please be sure to protect your private information as you would in any other public setting.

We’re offering these tips to help you be aware and to rely on your inner skeptic, while also banding together with your community.  Our basic advice:

  • Do not share your credit card or any type of payment information, your Medicare number, or other sensitive information for all of the mutual aid group to see. If you want to help someone buy groceries, or you want to reimburse someone for picking up your groceries, do that privately using services you trust. 
  • Don’t share information about your living arrangement or your health condition that could be exploited – for example, if you live alone or have limited mobility.
  • Ask yourself what information is really needed to offer help or to request help. It’s understandable someone would eventually need your phone number or email to allow you to communicate.  But questions about your birthdate, income, or Social Security Number should raise flags.
  • Always recall that “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

We thank the hundreds of thousands of neighbors helping neighbors across the country through mutual aid groups. But no one’s kindness or pain should be exploited.  AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts,” review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.