Watch for scams in wake of tsunami

(This is the Online column written for The Southland Times)

As the death toll from the Boxing Day tsunami continues to rise, the depths to which scammers, thieves and fraudsters will sink to also appears to be increasing.

The first scams began appearing online within hours of the devastating wall of water hitting land but there is some good advice out there on the types of scams doing the rounds and how to avoid them. Most seem to be variations on existing online frauds, such as the Nigerian and phishing scams.

By last week, the FBI had identified more than 100 tsunami-related phishing sites. This particular scam often uses banks and credit card companies as a favoured target and if you’re wondering what the term actually means, take a look at Webopedia.

PC World’s Press F1 forum has an interesting discussion on the whole nasty little subject of these mean-spirited scams.

There has also been a run of donation box thefts in Auckland. Some posters on New Zealand message boards have suggested that perhaps the thieves had resorted to such desperate measures after falling on hard times dealing with the excesses and expenses of Christmas but I’m not so charitable. How desperate can their lives be? Have they lost their families, homes, neighbours and livelihoods?

Even worse than those lowlifes who are trying to steal money for those who have lost everything are the scum-sucking bottom-feeders who have taken it upon themselves to cause more heartache for the victims. A British man was arrested earlier this month for sending hoax e-mails to people informing them
their loved ones had died in the disaster. Fortunately, the scum trying to line their own pockets and cause unnecessary fear and stress are in the minority.

Governments around the world have dug deep and pledged billions of dollars to help with the immediate needs of the survivors and to assist the battered countries rebuild. While the New Zealand Government copped a bit of flak with what seemed a tight-fisted early offer of aid, the package announced on Tuesday is enough to make a Kiwi proud.

If you want to make a donation, Fairfax Group (which owns The Southland Times) has set up a secure site to accept donations. Telecom has also stepped in to help, with the announcement it will credit its customers the cost of calls from home phones to tsunami-affected regions in Asia, while internet service provider Slingshot has said it will donate $15,000.

In the online trading world, Air New Zealand is running a whole bunch of auctions on Trade Me. All proceeds from these auctions are going to the Red Cross, World Vision and Oxfam.

There are other e-mails pinging around the net right now, claiming to show images of the tsunami. Most are fakes and if you’re unsure check out either Snopes or Truth of Fiction.

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