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Scammers 'Donate' to Katrina Relief Effort

The audacity of Internet scam artists never ceases to amaze me. Over the weekend I was lurking on a few obscure online chat channels dedicated to credit card fraud, collecting information for a story I'm working on about identity theft. In such forums, it is not at all uncommon to see fraudsters posting personal and financial details of their phishing victims as enticements to would-be buyers of larger stores of such information. In January, I wrote extensively about this type of activity in a series on the technology driving the spread of phishing scams.

At one point in my monitoring of the chat conversations, however, it became clear that several fraudsters fancied themselves modern-day Robin Hoods; at least two individuals on the chat channel began posting copies of receipts they had garnered for donating to the American Red Cross's Hurricane Katrina relief fund - using their victims' credit card and billing addresses. Following a posting that contained a female victim's name, address, credit card number (referred to merely as "cc" in the following snipped conversation), came the notice that the scammers had donated $250 with this woman's account, and another amount using the Visa card of a Chicago man. (The names of the scammers have been changed for readbility and because the non-standard characters in them messed up the HTML formatting of this page).

[01:24]  lowlife: to donate with ripppp cc;s
[01:25]  lamer: yea man
[01:25]  sleazeball: :D
[01:25]  lamer: its good especially with katrina and all now
[01:25]  lowlife: yah//// i would have donated more
[01:25]  lowlife: but no $$ left in the cc
[01:25]  sleazeball: lolz
[01:26]  lowlife: yeh i guess :) feeling so good
[01:26]  lowlife: i am a very good person
[01:26]  lowlife:  :P

I forwarded the information I found to the Red Cross, which is investigating to see if they could match that conversation to an actual donation.

I find these illegal "donations" reprehensible and offensive on so many levels. Theft is theft, and when discovered, the fake donations have the potential to generate anger and frustration, and ultimately besmirch all of the good work the Red Cross and other organizations are doing to help Katrina's victims. In all likelihood, the unauthorized charges will be reversed after considerable back and forth between the people whose credit card info. was stolen, the credit card companies and the Red Cross.

UPDATE, 6:30 p.m., ET: Since this post went live, I've heard from two other people I contacted whose credit card information also was posted on that chat channel. One individual from Tennessee came home to find my message on his answering machine, directly followed by one left by his bank calling him to report suspicious charges on his account. Among those charges was a $50 donation to Islamic Relief, which has launched a $2 million appeal for Hurrican Katrina victims. Another guy, a 25-year-old Marine from Alabama, returned my call to say that he also had an unauthorized $56 charge to Islamic Relief on his account.

By Brian Krebs  |  September 12, 2005; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Fraud  
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Someone used our credit card to run up a few charges just this last Friday. The charges included a generous donation of $5 to the American Red Cross. I guess every dollar counts.

Posted by: Gary Truett | September 13, 2005 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Do you know anyone who wants to tell their Katrina Internet scam story on national TV?
It would certainly help others if it came from the mouth of the victim. And the victim might get some kind of support from the audience. ann

Posted by: Anonymous | September 13, 2005 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Here's one for you. I received a call yesterday from a company in Orlando, FL, stating I had won a vacation package for stay in a hotel for 4 days and 3 nights in Orlando, a 3 day 2 night stay in Daytona Beach, and a 4 day 3 night cruise on the Royal Caribbean cruit ship. The total amount of the trip was $1,300, but if I agreed to accept this package, the total costs would be $298. All I had to do was give them my credit card number and part of the money would be donated to the Hurricane Katrina victims. I thanked the young lady for her call, but did not give out any information because of the red flags. The red flags were I had not put my name out for any sweepstake contests, the reductions of the price of the package if I agreed to purchase the "FREE" offer, and not mentioning which organzation the donation for the hurricane victims the money would be sent to. If the offer was free and I had won it, why do I have to pay anything? Why not mention the name of the organization the donation is going to? Because I am a savvy senior citizen, I was able to tell this was a possible scam. I hope you will print information in your column to warn other unsuspecting readers of scams of this type. You have to be a fast thinker to catch the red flags so you don't become a victim yourself.

Posted by: Joan E. Barrigher | September 14, 2005 10:40 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for sharing. The scam you shared is pretty common, actually. They're called advance-fee scams, and they basically involve you sending money to get money. The rule of thumb is, if you have to pay to order to claim a prize, it's almost always a scam. The reverse is also common: scammers target people selling high priced items on eBay, and then promise to send a check for more than the amount of the winning price (telling the seller to just pocket the extra amount). By the time the seller learns that check has bounced because it is counterfeit (or stolen), the scammer has run off with the item.

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 14, 2005 11:30 AM | Report abuse

How is this for one in which we got hurt for false information. Someone informed WEB.MD that our product Ilex Skin Protectant Paste. It said in bold red,:
"This Drug Has Been Withdrawn From The U.S. Market"
How is that for being ruthless as this medication is used on little children.
We are investigating and the responsible parties will be exposed on national TV.

Posted by: Virgil Pichierri | September 15, 2005 12:03 PM | Report abuse

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