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TSUNAMI WEB SCAM

CYBERSPACE, 2005 (D.O.T.) - Internet scammers have pounced on the outpouring of good will toward the victims of the Asian tsunami in their latest scheme to con people out of their money.

Fake fund-raising messages have landed in the e-mail boxes of Internet users in the United States and other countries since the Dec. 26 catastrophe. Some of the messages appear to be direct appeals from the survivors; others are made to look as if they came from the organizations assisting the victims.

One message that appears to be from the disaster relief agency Oxfam's branch in Hong Kong urges readers to deposit money into a bank account in Spain . Oxfam officials contacted police about the scam and warned the public yesterday.

"These kinds of tragedies are easy pickings for scammers. People are anxious to help out, and the scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of that," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a nonprofit charity watchdog group.

Mr. Borochoff and officials from other philanthropic groups urged consumers to donate only to legitimate charities and disaster-relief agencies, such as the Red Cross. The officials stressed, however, that even e-mail that appears to be from reputable organizations can be fake, so consumers should contact an organization before making a donation.

"We would encourage people to make their donations directly to recognized charities and aid organizations to ensure that they are used for the intended purpose."

CyberSpacers should also be suspicious of e-mail that claims to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files. The files could contain viruses, so make certain you open only those attachments you are expecting.

E-mail scams are as old as the Internet, but they continue to thrive as more people go online. Since 2002, the National Association of Attorneys General has ranked Internet and telecommunications scams at the top of its annual list of the 10 most-common consumer complaints.

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