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
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
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.”