Researchers, FBI Warn of Nepal Earthquake Scams

The earthquake that hit Nepal late last month has caused untold damage in the region and kicked off a massive relief and aid effort. Attackers are loathe to let a chance like that go by, and they have concocted a number of schemes to deprive victims of their money and hope for relief funds.

Aid organizations have established a number of relief funds for victims, and scammers have developed various twists on the old 419 ruse in order to trick people into giving up their personal information, along with a small fee, of course. The FBI is warning consumers about the potential for financial fraud, as is typical in the aftermath of disasters such as the Nepal earthquake.

“In the wake of natural disasters, many individuals feel moved to contribute to victim assistance programs and organizations across the country. The FBI reminds the public to apply a critical eye and conduct due diligence before giving to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims. Solicitations can originate as e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings, telephone calls and similar methods,” the FBI warning says.

Researchers at Barracuda Labs have collected a few of the recent scams that are exploiting concern around the Nepalese earthquake. The emails attempt to trick recipients into entering much of their personal data in order to receive money from Western Union, which the scammers say is giving out money. The emails ask for full name, address, occupation and other personal information and promise that in return for a small transaction fee.

“Once the information is given, the next steps of collecting the relief fund are then sent. The potential victim is instructed to send a wire transfer fee via Western Union to receive the funds that have been promised to them. Sadly, this isn’t the case and victims are left with their money and sensitive data in the hands of scammers,” Luis Chapetti of Barracuda wrote in a blog post analyzing the attacks.

Interestingly, some of the spam emails contain warning to recipients that sending their personal information over the Internet to people they don’t know is not the best course of action.

“Warning: Let it be known to you that these transactions are based on digital codes and computerized systems, it is therefore nsafe to reveal your details to someone else, e.g., Western Union ‘Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN)’. We therefore advice that you keep this process very confidential until this process is completed. This is an attempt to protect you against hackers and spies,” one of the emails says.

Scammers trying to capitalize on the interest of people in natural disasters has been a constant problem for decades, long before the Internet made it so much easier. Some of them have become quite convincing, and while this most recent batch isn’t at the top of the grammar or cleverness pyramid, the emails keep coming because they keep succeeding on some level.

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