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Tsunami Scams: How to Avoid the Multiple Tsunami Scams on the Internet

Millions of people have the best intentions in mind as they donate money to help the victims of the December 2004 tsunami disaster that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives-American charities have already collected more than $350 million in contributions.

But along with those good intentions comes a risk. According to Pete Brust, the acting deputy assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, "Right now we're seeing literally millions a day of fraudulent spam e-mails going out from various criminal groups." And what do you think all those e-mails are asking for? Tsunami donations.

Internet scams will not contain a warning like this one, so be sure to use common sense and not respond to unsolicited e-mails.

Some of the most common Internet scams to watch out for include:

  • E-mails asking for donations to be deposited directly into accounts of supposed tsunami victims.

  • Phishing scams that claim to be reputable tsunami relief organizations.

  • Offers to locate missing persons, for a fee.

  • E-mails that claim to contain photos of the disaster but actually contain worms and viruses.

  • E-mails reminiscent of the Nigerian fee scam asking recipients to help wire money out of the country. In this case, spam e-mail is sent and the recipient is asked to help a "son of Indonesian grocers" who were killed in the disaster to retrieve large amounts of money from a bank account in the Netherlands.

Natural disasters present a prime opportunity for scam artists looking to play on people's goodwill. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a nonprofit charity watchdog group, says, "These kinds of tragedies are easy pickings for scammers. People are anxious to help out, and the scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of that."

This doesn't mean that you can't make a contribution safely. The following tips, compiled from Consumer Reports WebWatch, Scambusters and the FBI, will help you to avoid getting scammed while trying to help victims of the tsunami disaster:

  • Don't respond to unsolicited e-mail regarding the tsunami, even if it seems like a reputable source.

  • Never respond to an e-mail request for a donation or personal information.

  • Be wary of e-mails from people claiming to be survivors or foreign government officials asking for help in moving large sums of money to overseas bank accounts.

  • Confirm the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by researching them online. Then go directly to the charity's Web site to make donations (rather than through a link from another site).

  • Giant tsunamis have hit the United States in the past and researchers say they will hit again in the future. Read more about the probability of U.S. tsunamis now.

  • Only open e-mail attachments from people you know. Others may contain viruses.

  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card to make payments online (they offer the greatest protections against fraud).

  • Contact the organization directly by phone if you doubt its authenticity.

  • If you think you've received a fraudulent e-mail, forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at

Also, be on the lookout for non-Internet tsunami scams. Reports have come in of scam artists going door-to-door and even setting up booths in malls to gather donations for fake tsunami charities.


Beware of Tsunami Scams

Groups Warn of Tsunami Scams

Tsunami Scams Beset Internet

Tsunami Scams Abound

Tsunami Scams

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