What you can do to shut down tsunami scammers

Recent events in Japan have spawned thousands of scams. Here's how to fight these cyber criminals

My house sits on a hill overlooking Patong Bay, Phuket, Thailand. I was at home on the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, when the tsunami hit. Most mornings I go jogging on the beach. That morning, Sunday morning, the day after Christmas, I decided to sleep in -- don't know why.

You've seen videos of the water engulfing Japanese seaside towns. Patong was like that, although we weren't hit as hard as areas farther north. I lost several friends that day. I don't talk about it very often.

I guess that's why I go ballistic when I hear about scammers trying to make a buck off the disaster in Japan.

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer has compiled a thorough list of scoundrels and their efforts. Most of the scams follow familiar patterns: requests for money, 419 messages offering big bucks to help bogus heirs, subverted Facebook links to tsunami videos, and the like. But one, in particular, is different. Rogue antivirus makers are tricking Google and other search engines into giving their pages high marks, using a very sophisticated keyword-seeding technique. The keywords change themselves, based on Google's hottrends. Details are on Bojan Zdrnja's SANS Internet Storm Center diary page.

Graham Cluley at Sophos has the details on a new variant of an old Facebook clickjack scam, this one called "Japanese Tsunami Launches Whale Into Building?" If you've never stepped through a Facebook "like-jacking" attack, Graham's article has a good introduction. I'm amazed to report that a similar attack, described on the GFI Labs Blog, still works -- at least as of this writing, the scamming URL hasn't been taken down.

Dante allocated part of the eighth ring of hell to people who profited from the misery of others. If you've been the victim, or intended victim, of one of these miscreants, you may be able to help them reap their just rewards.

Back in the days of Hurricane Katrina and its ensuing scams, the U.S. Department of Justice started an organization called the National Center for Disaster Fraud. The NCDF is a clearinghouse focused specifically on fraud related to natural or man-made disasters. They're working with the FBI and 20 other federal agencies to bring these scammers to justice. If you get a message or find a website that's trying to separate you from your money using the tsunami as an excuse, contact NCDF. Call 866-720-5721 (toll-free), or send email to disaster@leo.gov.

If you feel compelled to make a donation, choosing the right charity can be a Herculean task. The U.S. Better Business Bureau has a charity search site that lists BBB-recommended organizations with their financial information -- which is quite dated, in some cases. You should also check the data presented by Charity Navigator and GuideStar, although the latter gives out full information to paid subscribers only. (Full disclosure: I worked with Rotary International for many years on the Thailand tsunami aftermath.)

This story, "What you can do to shut down tsunami scammers," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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