Internet Fraud & How to Avoid It.

When the news about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Twitter’s newsfeed, many of us rushed to help. Emergency relief funds were set up within hours, Google released the people finder app one hour after first news of the tsunami came to light, and fundraisers are being held constantly. Unfortunately, many fraudsters have been constantly preying on those willing to help Japan and profiting from it. While the internet has made it easier for us to connect, and to donate money where it is needed most, it has also made running cons and scamming the needy and the gullible out of their money.

Tsunami related scams started appearing as early as three hours after the initial quake. A common scam on Facebook was links that, if clicked, sent the user to a site trying to convince the user that their computer had been infected by a virus and that they must pay to have it removed. Another common tactic is to flood people’s inboxes with requests for donations. While the email address may look legit, it probably isn’t.

“Symantec has observed a classic 419 message targeting the Japanese disaster.The message is a bogus ‘next of kin’ story that purports to settle millions of dollars owing to an earthquake and tsunami victim.”
~Symantec researcher Samir Patil.

A 419 scam is a long-used technique used by con men, that is named after the section in the Nigerian criminal code. It is usually used to convince victims to send money, usually by Western Union. While it promises a much larger return, it’s really a scam. We’ve probably all gotten messages from people claiming to be a gold miner’s daughter, Nubian prince, or an Australian lottery that we somehow won without entering or even knowing that it existed.

There are also fake websites that claim to be foundations or charitable organizations. Their urls will usually look legit, but usually aren’t. Other websites have been typosquatting, or using a URL that is one or two letters off the legit site’s url. These sites will copy the design and layout of the original site, but are actually out to steal your money. Make sure that you’ve typed in the right url before revealing any personal information on the site!

The SAN Institute’s Internet Storm Center reports that up to 1.7 million pages exist that are aiming to scam you out of your money and/or personal information under the guise of earthquake relief alone. This is WAY beyond anything that Google can delete at once, so it’s up to users to judge for themselves if a page is a scam or not.

IC3, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, is a joint operation between the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center. Last Friday, they issued an alert and some tips on how to stay clear of scams.

  • Do not respond to unsolicited (SPAM) e-mail.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials soliciting via e-mail for donations.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
  • Validate the legitimacy of the organization by directly accessing the recognized charity or aid organization’s website rather than following an alleged link to the site.
  • Attempt to verify the legitimacy of the non-profit status of the organization by using various Internet-based resources, which also may assist in confirming the actual existence of the organization.
  • Do not provide personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

If  you’ve had the misfortune to run into one of these scams and have already contributed money to the cause, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by telephone at (866) 720-5721, by fax at (225) 334-4707, or by e-mail at disaster@leo.gov. Furthermore, if you need to check if something is a scam, help is as far away as the internet. Checking sites like lookstoogoodtobetrue.com and scambusters.org should help you find some information.

Remember… Just like the cake, IT’S A LIE! Be careful, and donate only through reputable charities. Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, etc, are all accepting donations. If you aren’t sure if an organization is legitimate… DON’T DONATE.

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