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Scammers Target Givers After Haiti Earthquake

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Haiti earthquake victims

Some online and e-mail requests for donations to aid Haiti earthquake victims may be fraudulent, experts say.

Credit: CNN

The earthquake in Haiti caused massive destruction with widespread loss of life and property. Stories and pictures available online, in print, and on television have motivated many people to make contributions to help. "Unfortunately, these events also bring out the con artists and scammers who are more interested in making money for themselves rather than contributing to the rescue and restoration efforts," says Eugene H. Spafford, professor and executive director of CERIAS (Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security) at Purdue University.

Researchers at CERIAS know that criminals will take advantage of the most tragic of circumstances and exploit the sense of urgency people have to "do something" in order to overcome their normal caution.

"Our past research showed that the same people who normally commit fraud with get-rich-quick e-mails adjust their scams — within a matter of hours — to act as victims of these tragedies," says Howard Sypher, a professor with CERIAS and head of Purdue's Department of Communication. "Web sites are undoubtedly already constructed to impersonate major charities and thus trick the unwary."

Spafford cautions that fraudulent calls for aid could come in many forms.

"Be alert for fraudulent but sincere-sounding appeals for aid from Haitian victims, from what appear to be charities, or from government or U.N. officials," he advises. "These solicitations may be sent as e-mail to you or a group to which you belong, as postings or messages on a social newsgroup such as Facebook or Twitter, as a phone call from someone soliciting donations, or as a Web site to which you are directed or that pops up when visiting a site."

Both professors emphasize that, based on their past experiences, some of these fraudulent appeals will sound convincing, and the associated Web pages will appear official and legitimate.

Here are some tips from the experts at CERIAS on how to avoid being scammed, now and at other times:

  • Do not enter any information at a Web page that pops up unexpectedly when you visit some other site.
  • Never click on a Web site address (URL) in e-mail sent to you; it may look official, but most will be pointers to fraud or attack sites.
  • Don't assume that every Web address returned by a search engine, such as Google or Bing, is a legitimate organization.
  • Do not respond to e-mail requesting donations or making a special offer (such as asking you to hold their assets while Haiti rebuilds).
  • Do not reveal any personal or financial information during a phone call you did not dial yourself.
  • If a friend forwards a URL, phone number or e-mail, don't trust it until you check its validity. Your friend may have been scammed first.

How do you find a real charity to which you can contribute? Spafford recommends one starting point at CNN that lists real charities and how to contact them:

"Use your phone book to find the information of a nearby chapter of the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army," Spafford says. "Call or visit them and ask how you can contribute to Haitian disaster relief. Even small donations help and will be gratefully received — by real charities, not crooks."

For more information, visit the CERIAS Web site.


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