Many different types of Hurricane Katrina scams have made the rounds -- find out what they are, how to protect yourself, and how you can help...
Even though Hurricane Katrina landed awhile ago, we still want to remind you that whenever there is a major natural or other disaster, scammers begin sending out charity relief scams within just a couple of hours!
Online scammers continue to join the looters as more of the Hurricane Katrina scams we predicted are making their way around the Net.
We're seeing about four times as many scams as we saw with the tsunami disaster. (This is anecdotal, not scientific -- it's based on the volume of scams we saw then and now.)
In fact, the main story one day on the CNN home page was titled "FBI: Hurricane relief Internet scams proliferate." According to FBI assistant director Louis M. Reigel, by mid-day Thursday, there were 2,300 Katrina-related sites, double the number two days eariler. Of the 800 the FBI had investigated, 60% were presumed to be bogus. And by Wednesday September 14, of the 4,000 sites claiming to offer help to Katrina victims, the FBI believes up to 60% are likely bogus.
Although we certainly weren't surprised at how quickly these scams started to spread, we have been surprised by the scope and variety of Katrina scams. We describe the main ones below.
On Thursday September 8, 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the creation of a new task force to coordinate and expedite Hurricane Katrina fraud cases.
FTC officials are expecting a new wave of credit card complaints, such as promises of instant credit and new credit cards and loans, even though people have a bad credit history.
Types of Hurricane Katrina Scams
With all of the devastation, we are seeing many kinds of scams specific to Hurricane Katrina. We find the first three to be the most prevalent and the most serious:
1. Phishing scams: As described above, many fraudulent websites have already been set up pretending to be legitimate Hurricane Katrina relief organizations. These sites request charitable donations, but in fact steal financial information and may be used for identity theft as well. Contributions, of course, go into the pockets of the scammers rather than to help people who desperately need it.
Here's an example:
--- Begin Phishing Scam
Please donate to Hurricane Relief Efforts. We have seen the horrible destruction this past week that was caused by natural causes. Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. If you'd like to help we encourage you to make a generous donation to the American Red Cross. Thank You for your compassion.
[bogus but legitimate sounding domain name listed here]
--- End Phishing Scam
2. Viruses and trojans: Spam is sent that includes photos of disaster areas or individual survivors, and these attachments contain computer viruses. For example, the Trojan, Cgab, is now related to a Hurricane Katrina email that is making the rounds. It provides full access to the victim's PC. According to CNN Money, the email headlines include: "Re: g8 Tropical storm flooded New Orleans" and "Re: g7 80 percent of our city underwater."
3. Variants of the Nigerian fee scam: unsolicited email (spam) is sent with the supposed purpose of retrieving large amounts of money tied up in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. We were surprised that it took over a week to start seeing these scams. Here is one example:
--- Begin Nigerian Scam
Subject: FROM [name deleted]:LETS ASSIST HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS
Dear Beloved Sister& Brother In Christ,
I am Mrs [name deleted] from Netherlands. I am married to Dr. [name deleted] who worked with an oil servicing company in Gambia. It is by the grace of God that I received Christ through a crusade programme in Gambia,knowing the truth and the truth have set me free. I had no choice than to do what is lawful and right in the sight of God for eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of God´s mercy and glory upon my life We were married for twenty-seven years without a child. He died during a youth riots in one of the oil flow station region.He was held hostage and slain to death by protesting youths of the region. Before his death we were both Living christians.My late husband acquired a considerable sum of money through his resourcefulness and effectiveness during his stay in Gambia These money are currently lodged in a finance institution in Europe. I am desperately in need of your assistance and guidance in the dispatch of these money for the sole purpose of ameliorating the suffering of thousands of sick, poor and down trodden individuals ecumenically Especially victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans,usa.I was recently diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and the doctors have made it absolutely lucid that this disease is terminal. The doctors were not exact about how long I have to live but I am in the know that the disease has ravaged my body and left me at the mercy of endless cocktail of drugs been administered to me. The drugs have gone a long way in alleviating the pains, but I still feel my life gradually ebbing away. I do not have any existing family member to assist me in procuring these money before the stipulated time. I established this contact with you solely out of need and desperation,concern for victims in distress. I will ask that you inform me of your decision to assist or decline, please ensure that you make your decision based on nobility and humanity.Your assistance will remain forever invaluable and beneficial to thousands of children across the world. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I stated herein.
I await your urgent reply.
Yours in Christ,
N.B:LETS TEAM TOGETHER TO HELP THE HURRICANE KATRINA IN NEW ORLEANS NOW,TOMMORROW MIGHT BE YOUR TURN!GOD BLESS YOU.
--- End Nigerian Scam
4. Investment and security scams: According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), emails are making the rounds that tout specific stocks on the basis of activity related to Hurricane Katrina.
For example, one email says that investors could more than double their money in just days on certain penny stocks because of "refinery glitches."
5. Misleading emails trying to take advantage of the disaster to sell unrelated products:
Here's an example of an email that was just trying to sell Viagra:
--- Begin scam email ---
Subject: Re: 80 percent of our city underwater.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday that Hurricane Katrina killed as many as 80 people in his state and burst levees in Louisiana flooded New Orleans.
Just before daybreak Tuesday, Katrina, now a tropical storm, was 35 miles northeast of Tupelo, Miss., moving north-northeast with winds of 50 mph. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the amount of rainfall has been adjusted downward Monday.
[Link went to a Viagra website]
--- End scam email ---
(Thanks to Dave Taylor for passing this email along.)
6. Requests for individual donations to help their family members: The first spam message we saw of this type had two different spellings of the scammer's first name! (Thanks to Janet Attard for sending this example along.)
Basically, these bogus requests usually look like this:
My [insert: brother, sister, family, parents, etc.] lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Please send me money.
7.Hate websites: Sadly, a lot of hate websites are popping up that characterize the disaster as the "wrath of God" -- and then they naturally ask people to donate to them.
8. Chain letters: According to Anne Mitchell, the first email hoax was a request to forward the hoax because fifty cents would supposedly be donated to help victims for every copy of the email forwarded.
9. Scammers posing as officials from government agencies, banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, etc.: These scammers are claiming they will help victims in some way (such as help process their insurance claims more quickly). However, the goal of these scams is to steal bank, credit card, and/or other personal information in order to steal money and sometimes commit identity theft. So far we're seeing this more offline than online, but it's only a matter of time until these scams become more prevalent online.
10. Contractor scams: Contractors (or people pretending to be contractors) are asking for money up front to do repair work, and then not showing up to do the work. Again, these scams are showing up more offline than online, but they, too, will become more prevalent online.
11.Fee-based spam: unsolicited emails offer, for a fee, to locate loved ones who may be disaster victims.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
Here are the four most important things you can do:
- Always use common sense.
- Never respond to an email request for a donation — there is almost a 100% chance that it is a scam. (The only exception is that we hear that the American Red Cross does occasionally use email to solicit prior contributors. So if you have previously contributed to the American Red Cross, there is a small chance that a donation request email you receive may be legitimate.) In any case, NEVER click on a link in the email. Instead, type in the URL of the organization you wish to donate to. (See the resources below for a list.)
- Check to make sure any charity is legitimate before contributing. You can read about how to do this on our page on charity scams.
- Do not open attachments (including supposed pictures of disaster areas) -- they may well include viruses.
How You Can Help
The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has compiled a list of reputable voluntary organizations that urgently need cash donations to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in Gulf Coast states.
FEMA also warns, though, that volunteers should not report "self-dispatch" to the affected areas -- it is important that volunteers be directed so that they don't become part of the problem.
FYI, we have again contributed to the American Red Cross via Amazon. (You can click on the Red Cross Hurricane Relief Button.)
Finally on a personal note, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by Hurricane Katrina.