Thai scammers cashing in on tsunami corpses

Date: 1/2/2005

After Asia’s tsunami disaster triggered a global outpouring of compassion, a seamy side of human nature has emerged as fraudsters and profiteers scramble to make money out of misery. Grotesque pictures of drowning victims are being sold as souvenirs in the heavily damaged Thai resort of Phuket and bogus donation websites have been set up in various countries to divert aid from the mouths of survivors to the pockets of scam artists. Technology and financial companies have issued warnings against websites using the tsunami crisis as cover for ‘phishers’ expeditions through which unsuspecting donors are tricked into divulging confidential details that allow hackers into their bank accounts.Tsunami horror scenes on VCDs, T-shirts and gory pictures of bloated corpses floating in the sea are being snapped up by local residents and tourists alike.The infamous Nigerian scam artists have also made an appearance, according to Trend Micro, a network anti-virus and Internet security firm based in Tokyo. It said Nigerian ‘phishers’ have posed as a Singapore charity and sent e-mails asking donors to fork out US$100 each to help feed two million tsunami survivors. Trend Micro warned Internet users to be careful when using search engines to locate relief organizations’ web sites, and urged them to refrain from forwarding solicitation e-mails without first verifying their authenticity. Mastercard International has a tip for consumers: watch out for solicitation e-mails with spelling or grammatical errors.Cases of petty fraud have been uncovered in affected areas as well. A Thai man was sentenced to three months in jail for falsely claiming to be a tsunami victim to win government assistance.Pramote Lamla had told Krabi provincial officials that his property had been damaged by the killer waves, but later confessed he had lied. Sri Lankan policemen and soldiers have been deployed at relief centres to prevent stealing and fraud after reports emerged that some local officials were setting up bogus tsunami relief shelters to claim government hand-outs.There are also fears that aid money could end up in the wrong hands.

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