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FBI Warns of Tsunami Charity Scams

The FBI is warning altruistic cyber citizens to be on the lookout for Internet scams trying to gain from the recent Southeast Asian tsunami disaster.

The bureau has issued a statement detailing numerous schemes, which have been reported to the bureau's Internet Complaint Center. They range from phishing schemes directing potential donors to phony tsunami relief Web sites to fraudsters preying on grief-stricken family members and friends of possible victims of the disaster.

One such money-making effort encourages those holding out hope for the survival of loved ones to hire an "investigator" to scour the country for a nominal fee. The "investigators" use e-mail addresses from the many bulletin boards set up for friends and family members to gather information. Most of the "investigators" aren't likely even near the disaster area.

The astronomical death toll resulting from the tsunami, an estimated 150,000 people from 12 countries and two continents, has provided a virtual bonanza for these morbid money making schemes.

"The FBI, in conjunction with domestic and international law enforcement and industry partners, abhor these egregious actions and are resolved to aggressively pursuing those who would attempt to victimize philanthropic individuals."

There have also been reports of viruses infecting systems visiting pseudo relief sites, as well as a proliferation in tsunami photos on the Internet that contain malicious code.

"False Web sites have been established that pretend to be legitimate relief organizations asking for donations -- one of which contains an embedded Trojan exploit that can infect your computer with a virus if accessed," the FBI reported.

The fraudsters also are putting new spins on familiar scams. The FBI said there have been hundreds of e-mails circulating in which supposed wealthy victims of the disaster say they need help retrieving their money from overseas. All they ask for in return for a large percentage of their fictitious funds is a bank account number and Social Security information.

This scam is a variation of the Nigerian Letter Scam, where a supposed dignitary attempts to retrieve money illegally taken by a corrupt government.

The unprecedented number of donors has made fraud a lucrative effort. An estimated $200,000 in private donations has been collected online in the United States alone, and as reported by internetnews.com last week, President George W. Bush urged Americans to donate online.

The United States government isn't alone in issuing warnings to its citizens.

In China the incidents of tsunami Internet scams have reached a point where a foreign ministry spokesman publicly condemned the actions, reported the online publication China View.

"It is a very serious issue," said Kong Quan, Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a press conference, reported the publication. "A very small fraction of lawbreakers attempt to reap illegal gains in such a great international relief campaign, and they will be condemned by the whole society."