Katrina Scams

Answers to the 10 Most Interesting Questions We’ve Been Asked About Hurricane Katrina Scams; Internet ScamBusters #144

It’s been an amazing week. In fact, the events of this past week have given us the opportunity to do something unusual — and create a special ScamBusters issue for you today.

First a bit of background: As you probably know, we’ve been publishing ScamBusters for over ten years as a public service — to help people protect themselves from clever scammers.

As part of our work, we often do media interviews with reporters and journalists who are trying to get the word out about specific scams.

And every so often, we’re interviewed as top experts in what becomes a wave of publicity about a specific story.

That’s what happened last week. On Thursday, we were in an excellent front page story in the New York Times, as well as in a prominent Wall Street Journal article about Katrina scams.

The phones started ringing early on Thursday morning, and we doubt there was a ten-minute interval all day that the phone did NOT ring (until after 9:00 pm when we finished our last interviews). More of the same on Friday. If you’re interested, you can see a sample of some of the bigger press stories here.

How does this relate to this special issue of ScamBusters? In this issue, we answer the ten most interesting questions (out of the hundreds of questions we’ve been asked) about Hurricane Katrina scams.

Note: If you haven’t already seen our article on Hurricane Katrina scams (it has been updated every couple of days), we suggest you check it out now.

First though, we wanted to let you know that ScamBusters.org has donated a brand new 4 gig Apple iPod nano to be auctioned off on eBay — and 100% of the winning bid will go to charity to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

To find out more about this iPod nano auction, as well as the other great auctions to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims coordinated by AuctionAid.org, click here now.

OK, let’s get going…

Katrina Scams – What’s New: Answers to the 10 Most Interesting Questions We’ve Been Asked About Hurricane Katrina Scams

1. Were you surprised that the Katrina scams started so quickly?

Answer: No, we were not surprised at all. We expected the scams to start within hours — and they did. The same thing happened after each of the other major disasters during the past few years.

2. How does the number of the scams related to Hurricane Katrina compare to the scams after the tsunami disaster and 9/11?

Answer: We don’t collect statistics, and we don’t know of any group that has reliable statistics. Nonetheless, since we’ve been publishing ScamBusters for so long, many people and groups send us information about scams; and anecdotally, we get a pretty good feel for the scope of different scams.

Based on this, we’re seeing about four times as much scam activity related to Hurricane Katrina as we saw after the last disaster!

3. Are there any numbers you can share to give us a feeling of how big a problem these Hurricane Katrina scams are?

Answer: Yes. According to FBI assistant director Louis M. Reigel, by mid-day last Thursday there were 2,300 Katrina-related websites, double the number two days earlier! Of the 800 of these websites that the FBI had investigated, 60% were presumed to be bogus.

That gives you some feel for both the quantity of scam websites and the pace at which they are growing.

4. What are the three worst Hurricane Katrina scams?

Answer: The three worst Katrina scams (both in terms of quantity and potential damage) are phishing scams, viruses (and trojans), and variants of the Nigerian scam. They are described in more detail as the first three types of Hurricane Katrina scams here.

5. What surprised you most about the scams related to Hurricane Katrina?

Answer: We were most surprised by the scope and variety of Katrina scams. Scammers are getting more and more clever, and they are coming up with more sophisticated ways to scam people. We’re seeing a lot more variety than we saw with the tsunami disaster.

6. What else surprised you?

Answer: We were definitely surprised that it took over a week before we saw the first variants of the Nigerian scam pop up. We expected to start seeing these scams within a day or so.

7. What is the most unusual Katrina scam you’ve seen?

Answer: We saw a job posted on one of the major job websites that supposedly advertised a position for FEMA workers to help with the rescue effort. However, we’re quite certain this post was bogus and it was really a scammer who wanted to collect personal information from people who responded for the purpose of committing identity theft.

8. How can you tell if a particular email you receive is a scam?

Answer: It’s sometimes very difficult to know. Nonetheless, there are some signs that make it very likely that an email is a scam:

– If it came as spam. If we could only advise you of one thing to do to protect yourself from scams, it would be to never respond to spam. 99.999% of all spam are scams.

– If it has misspellings, bad grammar, and/or very poor English.

– If it is a very emotional plea.

– If it asks for a money gram or wire transfer or money order (so you definitely can’t get your money back).

Any of these factors are huge red flags that the email is a scam.

9. What are the most important things you can do to make sure you don’t get scammed?

Answer: Here are our top five recommendations:

– Always use common sense.

– As we mentioned above, never respond to spam.

– Check to make sure any charity is legitimate before contributing.

– Don’t click on a link in an email to make a contribution. Instead, always type the website address of the charity directly into your browser.

– Do not open attachments (including supposed pictures of disaster areas) — they may well include viruses.

10. With all of these Hurricane Katrina scams, do you believe it’s just too risky to contribute to the relief effort?

Answer: Not at all. These tips can help you contribute safely and protect yourself from Hurricane Katrina scams. We encourage everyone to be generous. We just want to help people make sure that their contributions get to the victims — and not to scammers.

That’s it for now. Wishing you an excellent — and safe — week.