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Major natural disasters in populated areas on Earth bring horrible hazards to those living there. With the global reach of the Internet now, those who would like to help the victims with donations share some risk as well.

News reports of the Richter 7.0 (that’s bad) earthquake not far from Port Au Prince, Haiti, were quickly followed by warnings about predictions that fraudulent operators would soon be trying to take advantage of the expected donations for relief efforts.

The amount of discussion is enormous. The number-one topic on Google Trends this morning was “the earthquake in Haiti.” A search for the phrase “Haiti earthquake relief,” turned up over eight million hits.

It is important to remember that a huge number of people in Haiti desperately need help. Just think twice about who you are giving money to.

How to cope:

The FBI has issued a news release with great basic tips:

— Don’t respond to spam emails on the topic and do not click on any links in them.
— Think twice about those claiming to be survivors or officials asking for donations by email or social networking sites.
— Confirm the legitimacy of any nonprofit group before making a donation.
— Avoid clicking on email attachments that purport to be photos of the disaster area.
— Make contributions DIRECTLY to known organizations and avoid donating to those who claim to be collecting FOR that organization.
— Do not give personal or financial info to those asking for contributions.

Joel Esler said last night on the SANS Internet Storm Center diary:

“…we are already seeing a bunch of domains being parked in relation to the Haiti disaster, and we are going to attempt to keep an eye on them all to warn our readers of anything possibly misaligned.”

SANS Chief Research Officer Dr. Johannes Ullrich also discussed the safe way to make donations using SMS short codes via Twitter in his daily five-minute Internet Storm Center StormCast podcast this morning.

The US-Computer Emergency Readiness Team carried a piece on the search engine poisoning that can be expected: “Haitian Earthquake Disaster Email Scams and Search Engine Poisoning Campaigns”

Tom Kelchner