As Hurricane Gustav and then Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast, we know what that means: hurricane scams are right on its heels: Internet ScamBusters #299
Hurricane Gustav and now Hurricane Ike scams have already begun.
According to Computerworld, almost 100 domain names related to
Hurricane Gustav were registered by Sunday, August 31, 2008,
well before Hurricane Gustav hit land in the US. Although many
of these are likely legitimate, many will also be used by scammers.
In fact, if Hurricane Katrina and other major disasters have
taught us anything, it’s that scammers will always try to make
some quick bucks while others are suffering. And the bigger the
disaster, the more scammers are at work.
Today we look at 11 categories of Hurricane Gustav scams and
warn you so you can protect yourself.
First though, we suggest you check out this week’s issue of
Scamlines — What’s New in Scams?
Next, we recommend you check out the most popular
articles from our other sites during the past week:
Answers to 7 of the Biggest Questions About Photographing
Dogs: An Interview With Jenni Bidner: Learn the art of great href="http://www.7photographyquestions.com/audio-podcast/"
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years of experience.
Prepaid Credit Cards: The Slightly Safer Version Of Debit Cards – Find
out the advantages of href="http://www.creditcardwhizkid.com/2008/08/prepaid-credit-cards-the-slightly-safer-version-of-debit-car.html"
target="_blank">prepaid credit cards and what to watch out for.
Don’t Throw Those Expired Coupons Away!
target="_blank">Expired coupons may still be valid in many stores
so get the facts now before throwing them away.
On to today’s Special Issue on Hurricane Gustav scams…
Hurricane Scams 2008: Hurricane Gustav Scams Have Already Begun
When Hurricane Katrina first hit, scams popped up within hours.
Hurricane Gustav is no different.
Since online scams are almost certainly going to pop up in your
inbox (if they haven’t already), how can you decide what is a
scam and what is authentic?
Chances are that any email asking for donations is a scam. But
the email scammers can get tricky. They have created emails
that sound truly authentic, tear at your heartstrings and make
you feel compelled to “donate” to disaster relief.
So to help you protect yourself from the scams that are almost
certain to find you, and insure that any money you decide to
donate actually goes to people suffering, Scambusters will help
you navigate these “waters.”
1. Phishing Scams
Prior to landfall, the Louisiana Attorney General’s office
started seeing bogus emails asking people to “confirm” their
bank information before the hurricane hit.
These emails sent people to bogus websites that could then be
used by scammers for financial fraud and identity theft.
Further, as we mentioned, websites that claim to be legitimate
Hurricane Gustav relief organizations are being created. These
websites ask people to donate money by giving your financial
All the money you donate goes straight into the pockets of the
con artists. The scammers can use this information to steal
your identity, as well.
Here’s an example of what an email could look like…
“Please give your charitable donations to the victims of
Hurricane Gustav. The chaos and destruction experienced by the
region and its victims is unimaginable. But you can help these
people regain their lives by giving them some hope. Your
donation will go a long way to giving these victims their lives
back. Our prayers and compassion go out to them. Make a
generous donation to the American Red Cross by (clicking this
[bogus but legitimate sounding domain name listed here]
Sounds legitimate and plays on your emotions. But don’t fall
Action: If you want to make a donation through the Red Cross or
another disaster relief organization, go to an organization’s
office itself, or the official website by typing in the domain
name, like RedCross.org. Emails are
2. Viruses and Trojans
These emails usually are geared to getting you to open them and
click on the attachment, which then infects your computer with
a virus or Trojan.
For example, the subject line of an email might read something
like “80% of city underwater” or “Entire neighborhoods
completely washed away.”
Attached are photos related to the subject line — either real
The attachments often contain viruses or Trojans that track
everything you do on your computer or give the sender complete
access to your PC.
Action: Delete emails such as this. Don’t click on the
3. Variations of the Nigerian Fee Scam
In this scam, the sender plays on your emotions again. You’re
supposed to help someone retrieve large amounts of money that
are, for some reason, tied up in relation to an area that
Hurricane Gustav has hit.
Action: As with any other scam email, delete it.
4. Investment, Energy and Security Scams
Since 10% of the natural gas and 5% of the crude oil that
Americans consume is produced off the U.S. Gulf Coast, it’s
very likely that Hurricane Gustav will produce some investment,
energy and security scams.
After Hurricane Katrina, the SEC reported that emails were
circulating that claimed certain penny stocks would sky rocket.
Reasons varied. Some were supposed to rise because of “refinery
Action: Delete all emails promoting stocks, futures, and other
investments related to Hurricane Gustav.
5. Emails that relate to a disaster to sell unrelated products
What do weight loss products have to do with Hurricane Gustav?
But there are some that will try to sell products that have
nothing to do with Hurricane Gustav relief.
Here’s an example of what one of these emails might look
Subject: Entire street washed away.
Louisiana Officials predict that as many as 45 people were
washed away when flooding destroyed this New Orleans
Hours after Gustav struck, entire neighborhoods were no more.
Winds in excess of 120 mph uprooted trees and flooding washed
away any evidence of civilization.
Read more… [Link to a weight loss product]
Action: Ignore and delete these emails.
6. Emails asking for individual donations to help a victim’s family
These scams are surprisingly simple. They’re often just a one
or two sentence email asking for a donation. For example…
Subject: My younger sister has only the clothes on her back
thanks to Hurricane Gustav. Please help her with a donation.
7. Hate Websites
These websites claim a disaster is “the wrath of God.” They
might claim the victims were “wicked” and got what they
deserved. Then they ask people to donate to them, either for
financial or identity theft purposes.
Action: Delete these emails.
8. Chain Letters
Here’s an example: “Every time this email is forwarded, 25
cents will be donated to Hurricane Gustav victims.”
Action: Delete these emails and certainly don’t pass them
9. Scammers claiming to be official government agencies, banks, credit card companies, etc.
Scammers who try this out will claim they can help victims by
expediting insurance claims or donating money. They often use
replicas of well known logos, like MasterCard or Allstate.
The real goal of these scams is to steal credit card, bank,
Social Security numbers, and other personal information. These
scams are common both online and offline.
Action: Follow the advice we give each week in Scambusters on
avoiding these types of scams.
10. Contractor Scams
Contractor scams are more common offline than online. Scammers
pose as contractors and ask people for money so they can do
some immediate, upfront repair work. Of course, since they
aren’t real contractors, they will never show up to do any
Some real contractors also take advantage of the disaster by
price gouging. Since there is a shortage of legitimate
contractors, people are relieved to find someone to do their
The Alabama Attorney General Troy King has already warned that
his office will prosecute price gouging, and he has advised
consumers to be careful of fraud in damage repairs from
11. Fee-based Spam: These emails offer to locate people you know who may have been a hurricane victim.
Action: Delete these emails.
How to Protect Yourself
In summary (and in addition to the advice above), here are four
ways you can keep yourself safe from Hurricane Gustav scams:
1. Use common sense. And remember, if it is spam, it’s a scam.
2. Never donate from an email request. It’s almost certainly a
scam. Never click on the links in emails.
Make sure any charity you do donate to is legitimate. Find out
how to tell if
charities are legitimate on our site.
4. Don’t open attachments in unknown emails. There is a good
chance they contain viruses or Trojans.
Finally, on a more personal note, our thoughts and prayers go
out to everyone impacted by Hurricane Gustav.
Time to close — we’ll see you next week.