Thursday, September 08, 2005

After the Storm, the Swindlers

I just wanted to tell and remind people that there are many scams going on via email and now many of them are involving the victims of Hurricane Katrina. One such scam even makes you think you are donating to the American Red Cross and attempts to steal your credit card numbers. There are also many telephone solicitation scams.

Please remember to be vigilant and not respond to these emails or cold calls. Your best way of donating is to send your money directly to the charitable organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. These organizations offer you a receipt for your donation.

Please see the below article from todays New York Times for some further information.



September 8, 2005

After the Storm, the Swindlers


Even as millions of Americans rally to make donations to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Internet is brimming with swindles, come-ons and opportunistic pandering related to the relief effort in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And the frauds are more varied and more numerous than in past disasters, according to law enforcement officials and online watchdog groups.

Florida's attorney general has already filed a fraud lawsuit against a man who started one of the earliest networks of Web sites -, and others - that stated they were collecting donations for storm victims.

In Missouri, a much wider constellation of Internet sites - with names like and - displayed pictures of the flood-ravaged South and drove traffic to a single site,, a nonprofit entity with apparent links to white separatist groups.

The registrant of those Web sites was sued by the state of Missouri yesterday for violating state fund-raising law and for "omitting the material fact that the ultimate company behind the defendants' Web sites supports white supremacy."

Late yesterday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation put the number of Web sites claiming to deal in Katrina information and relief - some legitimate, others not - at "2,300 and rising." Dozens of suspicious sites claiming links to legitimate charities are being investigated by state and federal authorities. Also under investigation are e-mail spam campaigns using the hurricane as a hook to lure victims to reveal credit card numbers to thieves, as well as fake hurricane news sites and e-mail "updates" that carry malicious code aimed at hijacking a victim's computer.

"The numbers are still going up," said Dan Larkin, the chief of the Internet Crime Complaint Center operated by the F.B.I. in West Virginia. He said that the amount of suspicious, disaster-related Web activity was higher than the number of swindles seen online after last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia. "We've got a much higher volume of sites popping up," he said.

The earliest online frauds began to appear within hours of Katrina's passing. "It was so fast it was amazing," said Audri Lanford, co-director of, an Internet clearinghouse for information on various forms of online fraud. "The most interesting thing is the scope," she said. "We do get a very good feel for the quantity of scams that are out there, and there's no question that this is huge compared to the tsunami."

By the end of last week, Ms. Landford's group had logged dozens of Katrina-related swindles and spam schemes. The frauds ranged from opportunistic marketing (one spam message offered updates on the post-hurricane situation, with a link that led to a site peddling Viagra) to messages said to be from victims, or families of victims.

"This letter is in request for any help that you can give," reads one crude message that was widely distributed online. "My brother and his family have lost everything they have and come to live with me while they looks for a new job."

Several antivirus software companies have warned of e-mail "hurricane news updates" that lure users to Web sites capable of infecting computers with a virus that allows hackers to gain control of their machines. And numerous swindlers have seeded the Internet with e-mail "phishing" messages that say they are from real relief agencies, taking recipients to what appear to be legitimate Web sites, where credit card information is collected from unwitting victims who think they are donating to hurricane relief.

On Sunday, the Internet security company Websense issued an alert regarding a phishing campaign that lured users to a Web site in Brazil that was made to look like a page operated by the Red Cross. Users who submitted their credit card numbers, expiration dates and personal identification numbers via the Web form were then redirected to the legitimate Red Cross Web site, making the ruse difficult to detect. The security company Sophos warned of a similar phishing campaign on Monday.

"They're tugging at people's heartstrings," said Tom Mazur, a spokesman for the United States Secret Service. Mr. Mazur said there were "a number of instances that we're looking into with this type of fraud, both domestically and overseas," but he would not provide specifics.

The lawsuit filed in Florida last Friday accused Robert E. Moneyhan, a 51-year-old resident of Yulee, Fla., of registering several Katrina-related domain names - including,, and - as early as Aug. 28, even before the hurricane had hit the Louisiana coast.

By Aug. 31, according to the Florida attorney general, Charles J. Crist Jr., Mr. Moneyhan's sites had begun asking visitors to "share your good fortune with Hurricane Katrina's victims." A "Donate" button then took payments through a PayPal account that Mr. Moneyhan had set up.

Mr. Moneyhan did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mail messages, but the Web site names in question are now owned by, a loose collection of Web sites that is using the Katrina sites as an information center for hurricane victims.

Kevin Caruso, the proprietor of, said that he had offered to buy the sites from Mr. Moneyhan on Sept. 2, but that Mr. Moneyhan, distressed over the lawsuit, simply donated them to Project Care without charge. Mr. Caruso also said that after several phone conversations, he believed that Mr. Moneyhan, was "trying to help the Hurricane Katrina survivors, but did not have the experience to proceed properly."

The lawsuit, however, states that Mr. Moneyhan had tried to sell his collection of Katrina-related domain names on Sept. 1 "to the highest bidder." The suit seeks $10,000 in civil penalties and restitution for any consumers who might have donated to the Web sites while they were controlled by Mr. Moneyhan.

Jay Nixon, the Missouri attorney general, sued to shut one of the more bizarre fund-raising efforts yesterday. A state circuit court granted a temporary restraining order against Internet Donations Inc., the entity behind a dozen Web sites erected over the last several days purporting to collect donations for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Also named in the Missouri suit, which seeks monetary penalties from the defendants, is the apparent operator of the donation sites, Frank Weltner, a St. Louis resident and radio talk show personality who operates a Web site called

That site - which indexes Adolf Hitler's writings, transcripts of anti-Semitic radio broadcasts and other materials, according to the Anti-Defamation League - attracted headlines last year when it appeared at or near the top of Google search results for the query "Jew." It remains the No. 2 search result today.

Most of Mr. Weltner's Katrina-related Web sites - which include,, and - appear to have been registered using, which masks the identity of a domain registrant.

However, Mr. Weltner's name appeared on public documents obtained through the Web site of the Missouri secretary of state yesterday. Those indicated that Mr. Weltner had incorporated Internet Donations as a nonprofit entity last Friday.

The various Web sites, which use similar imagery and slight variations on the same crude design, all point back to There, visitors interested in donating to the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other relief organizations are told that "we can collect it for you in an easy one-stop location."

It is unclear whether any of the sites successfully drew funds from any donors, or if Mr. Weltner, who did not respond to e-mail messages and could not be reached by phone, had channeled any proceeds to the better-known charities named on his site. But the restraining order issued yesterday enjoins Mr. Weltner and Internet Donations Inc. from, among other things, charitable fund-raising in Missouri, and "concealing, suppressing or omitting" the fact that donations collected were intended "for white victims only."

"It's the lowest of the low when someone solicits funds" this way, Mr. Nixon said in an interview before announcing the lawsuit. "We don't want one more penny from well-meaning donors going through this hater."

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