Haiti earthquake inspires generosity and malicious scams

The earthquake that shook the small nation of Haiti less than a week ago has caused chaos and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, although the final human cost is still unknown. Because of the suffering and hardships that are facing those left alive, an international aid effort has begun, with all of world’s leaders pledging their support in any way that they can.

Technology and the internet have been able to precipitate the fastest actions and reactions to the disaster and within hours of the earthquake numerous individuals and organisations had set up websites and resources to campaign for international aid and support.

Google edited the main page of its search engines around the globe with links to allow visitors to make donations and the search giant pledged one million dollars of its own money to help with the rescue and rebuilding of Haitian society.

The cloud computing power behind Google Earth has also been put to good use, demonstrating the severity of the earthquake damage from complied satellite data and represented visually so that everyone can appreciate how much work needs to be done.

Although a majority of the websites created are perfectly legitimate, there have also been a number of malicious websites masquerading as online portals for new charitable campaigns linked to the Haitian earthquake. In some instances these are in fact sites created by cyber criminals and con-artists to trick good Samaritans out of their donations.

US-CERT (United States Emergency Computer Response Team) has picked up on the development of several online scams using a variety of tactics to steal donations. Some have set up phishing sites which claim to support legitimate campaigns and have boosted these sites to the top of search engine listings using Google poisoning techniques, whilst others have used emails to get to concerned citizens.

People are being advised to keep an eye on their inbound mail, paying particular attention to any unsolicited messages from unknown sites. Responding to appeals from established charities is the safest way for people to donate and there is even an official checklist that internet users can access to help them determine whether a site is legitimate or not.

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