Japan disaster provides opportunity for scammers

There are myriad ways to help victims of the Japan earthquake with the internet or your smartphone -- but beware of scams.

Within minutes of the massive earthquake that rattled Japan on the morning of March 11, the web was flooded with videos, pictures, tweets, images -- and scammers trying to make a quick buck from people trying to help out.

SecurityWeek.com points to the expected “massive influx of scams” expected and notes that scams began to appear on Facebook before the tragedy was even an hour old.

After the earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to citizens on how to give safely and avoid scams. The advice is pertinent to the Japan earthquake as well. That included common sense approaches such as to not send cash, to only send money to organizations you know and trust and to ask for the identification of any person who contacts you asking for money to help relief efforts. (Click here to read more about how social media is aiding the response.)

There are ways to help. The Red Cross has a donation line set up via text message that enables $10 donations to the organization by texting REDCROSS to 90999. The Red Cross has teamed up with mobile donation provider mGive to provide this service. UNICEF, Doctors WithoutBorders and AmeriCares also collect donations for relief efforts.

The Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) has a couple ways to donate to earthquake relief in Japan through your cell phone by sending a text message, same as with the Red Cross. The MGF was founded in 2007 by veterans of the wireless industry who wanted to harness the power of wireless communications to empower non-profit organizations. The board of directors and advisory board has members 1024 Partners, Handmark and CNN/Turner Broadcasting.

Text “JAPAN” or “TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10 On behalf of Save the Children Federation, Inc.

Text “4JAPAN” or “4TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10 On behalf of World Vision, Inc.

Text “MERCY” to 25383 to donate $10 On behalf of Mercy Corps

Google has also launched its Person Finder to help family and friends locate people missing after the quake and the ensuing tsunami. The Person Finder is an interactive database where people can post for find information on people lost in the disaster. But scams have popped up around the person finder concept in the aftermath of both the Haiti and Chili earthquakes of 2010. As always, it is better to use trusted sources and companies, especially during times of emergency.

Cell phones can be a vital tool during disasters and just yesterday the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a blog post on use tips on how to use your smart phone during a crisis. Those include saving emergency numbers, using Twitter as a resource tool for staying up to date and having an extra battery handy in case of prolong electric outages.

Technology has changed the way the world responds to disaster situations, from instant images of affected areas to emergency preparedness and the ability to quickly and securely give money to charity. With that also comes the potential for scams from phishing attacks on your phone, Twitter, Facebook and through search engine optimized bait links on Google.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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