Beware of Haiti Earthquake Related Scams
Article by George Norman
On 15 Jan 2010
A lot of attention has been given to the Haiti earthquake and for good reason – the 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed and left countless without a home, water and food. Unfortunately it has also drawn the attention of all the people with malicious intent that lurk about on the internet. It is one of the oldest tricks in the book – take a high profile event and use it for spam, to lure people to malicious sites, to spread malware, and to generally do bad things.

Some of the biggest names in the security world are warning computer users about Haiti earthquake related scams – like for example Sophos, company that specializes in providing antivirus, anti-spam, spyware removal software, network and internet security, data protection, and computer security solutions. The company announced that it caught in its spamtraps messages that claim to originate from aid organizations and that ask users to donate money to help those affected by the earthquake.

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It is a spin on the classic 419 scam. The difference is that typical 419 scams ask for relatively small amounts of money. These scam messages ask for larger amounts. Here is the transcript of one of the messages Sophos caught in its spamtraps:

Subject: Help Earthquake victims in Haiti
From: “RED CROSS INTERNATIONAL” <relief@icrc.org>
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Hello Sir/Madam

The Red Cross international Turkey hereby appeal to you friends, public, families and companies, to help us with online fund raising to enable us treat Haiti Earthquake victims affected with Earthquake disaster across North America. Visit http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/8455774.stm to see why your help/money is highly needed.

Help the needy, poor and sick, no amount is small for God loves a cheerful giver. In order to expedite the sending of the relief funds to the needy urgently, you are advised to send us your donation/contribution to Turkey by express Western Union Money Transfer ( www.westernunion.com ) through the name of our financial officers Mrs. Joyce Henendez and Mr. Loreto Hassan respectively.

You are advised to respond back to this mail and provide us with the transfer details including your contact address.

N.B: Donators from 100 to 4500 Euros will only have their names appeared in our relief magazines and websites while those donations above ( 5000 Euros) to any amount will have a space for their photos, names and business adverts in our magazines and websites. Please send us your photos and business details.

We await your urgent response and thanks for your co-operations and generosity to mankind.

Yours sincerely,

Gul Jasmine

Relief Coordinator.


But it doesn’t stop here. Thanks to blackhat SEO, the bad guys are luring users to malicious sites. Search for info about the Haiti earthquake and amongst the first 10 search results there are sites that distribute scareware (rogue security software applications that trick the user into thinking his computer is infected, then ask for money to supposedly remove the infection). The sites that appear in the search results check the referrer (check to see if the visitor reached the site via a search engine) and if the user comes from a search engine, direct him to another site that distributes scareware.

If you want to learn more about the earthquake, seek out reputable news sources. If you plan to show your support by donating money, be careful not to give your money to the wrong guys. You could for example visit Google’s disaster relief information site that presents news and updates about the earthquake and lists ways for you to donate money as well.



Tags: Haiti, Eartquake, Scam, Scareware, 419 scam
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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