Haiti tragedy reveals best and worst of online folk


I would like to think that anyone watching, reading or listening to news reports of the unfolding tragedy that is post-earthquake Haiti could not fail to be moved first to tears and then prompted to want to do something. Most people have responded by asking themselves 'what can I do to help?' and have found the answer to be to donate money to the likes of the Red Cross or similar which is organising a disaster emergency fund to help the poor folk of Haiti.

Some, though, have responded by asking 'how can I exploit the situation to satisfy my own greed?' and found the answer to be in generating poisoned search engine results and malware-laden spam. It almost beggars belief that anyone could sink so low, but the sad fact is that there is scum out there who will do anything for money and that includes attempting to profit off the misery of others.

Symantec is warning that there has been a "huge upturn" in 419 advance fee schemes, spam emails soliciting donations and poisoned search engine results designed to exploit the generosity of the masses.

The security company urges computer users to follow best practice to ensure donations and support reach the intended victims and not some scumbag scammers. Advice includes:

Avoid clicking on suspicious links in email or IM messages as these may be links to spoofed Web sites. Symantec security experts suggest typing Web addresses, such as those from a charitable organisation, directly into the browser rather than clicking on links within messages.

Never fill out forms in messages that ask for personal or financial information or passwords. A reputable charitable organisation is unlikely to ask for your personal details via e-mail. When in doubt, contact the organisation in question via an independent, trusted mechanism, such as a verified telephone number, or a known Internet address that you type into a new browser window (do not click or cut and paste from a link in the message).

In the UK, you can donate to the UNICEF Haiti Earthquake Children's Appeal, the British Red Cross Haiti Earthquake Appeal or the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal and be sure the money is going to the right people.

About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

InsightsDigital 57 Posting Virtuoso

Thanks for the 411. This is scary. Haiti needs all our help and people who exploit this situation are just gathering bad karma points.

canadafred 220 SEO Alumni Team Colleague Featured Poster

Hanging around search engine forums has educated me immensely regarding the relentlessness of human greed. If a swindler can enjoy profiting over the good heartedness of others wanting to help a brother in need, then they can do just about anything else for money.

Although this unsavoury type of low-life has been around throughout the ages, the Internet propels these scumbags into the global stage, sometimes as lone wolves and sometimes in highly organized masses.

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