US ATTACK: Consumers urged to be aware of relief scams

E-mail protection and consumer advocacy groups are warning users to beware of online terrorism-related scams.

In the Sept. 12 issue of its newsletter, Internet Scambusters in Boone, N.C., said it had received reports of spammers sending out e-mails asking for assistance for "emergency relief funds," and directing recipients to contribute money to the Red Cross through the spammers' Web sites.

"Many of these spammers are trying to steal money and credit card numbers," the group said. "Do not respond to these e-mails."

The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) and SpamCon Foundation in San Francisco also warned of online attempts to fraudulently profit from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

According to these groups, scammers are soliciting donations via e-mail and postings in community forums in the names of the victims of the attacks.

In a typical message, the scammer claims to be part of an "Express Relief Fund," or "Victims Survivor Fund," the groups said. One message claims the donations will go to the Red Cross, but the link leads to a Web site that isn't connected to that organization.

According to CAUCE and SpamCon, the World Trade Center spams appeared within one hour of the disaster. While some spammers asked for donations, others made light of the event.

"It's not unusual for news events to be mentioned in upcoming spam," said Tom Geller, executive director of SpamCon Foundation.

Geller said in addition to soliciting fraudulent donations, spammers also use tragedies to "bless what they are doing."

"They put a reference to the tragedy at the top of their e-mail -- [i.e. saying how sorry they are] -- in order to protect themselves from criticism for sending spam."

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