Home News Stories 2005 September FBI Cyber Executive Warns of Hurricane Katrina Scams
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FBI Cyber Executive Warns of Hurricane Katrina Scams

Beware Hurricane Katrina Relief Scams
FBI Cyber Exec Warns of Online Schemers Exploiting the Tragedy


Hurricane KatrinaDays before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast of the U.S., fraudsters began registering Katrina-related websites hoping to profit from an anticipated outpouring of charitable donations for storm victims. How prevalent are these fraud schemes? What are we doing to stop them? How can you safely make donations online? For the answers to these questions and more we talked with our top cyber exec, Louis M. Reigel.

Q: How widespread are Katrina-related online frauds?

Mr. Reigel: There are more than 4,000 Katrina-related websites registered now, more than four times the number we saw just last week. Many of them may be legitimate, but fraudulent ones are popping up faster than we can pound them down. We’re seeing more scams now than we saw after the Southeast Asian tsunami last December. The complaints started rolling in just a few days after Katrina made landfall. As of this morning, we’ve received hundreds of Katrina-related complaints from people all over the country.

Q. What types of frauds are you seeing?

Mr. Reigel: Websites that spoof those of legitimate charitable organizations to steal people’s credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. Phishing e-mails, or spam, with links that redirect your web browser to those spoofed sites. E-mails that trick people into opening virus-laden attachments under the guise that they’re opening photos of the hurricane damage. You name it—we’re discovering new tactics everyday.

Q. What are we doing to stop these schemes?

Mr. Reigel: We’re working several cases right now based on the complaints we’ve received and from investigating the fraudulent sites themselves. We’re working very closely with the American Red Cross, which has been a primary target of these frauds, to identify sites that are spoofing their site. Through our Legats, we’re working with our foreign counterparts to track down people who are running these scams from Eastern Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. We’ve also partnered with the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, and other government agencies to form the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, led by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, which is addressing all of the frauds that have—unfortunately—resulted from the hurricane.

Q. How can people make sure the donations they make online are actually reaching the intended recipients?

Mr. Reigel: Be cautious in your giving. Don’t respond to any unsolicited incoming e-mails requesting donations, even if they look like they’re coming from reputable charitable organizations. Reputable charities don’t use spam to solicit donations. To make sure your donation is going to a legitimate, U.S.-based non-profit organization, type the charity’s web address directly into your web browser. Be very leery of emails with attachments, even if they’re from someone you know. And if you think you’ve been victimized by one of these scams, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Resources: E-Scams & Warnings

Photo courtesy of NASA.