Beware Of Tsunami Scams

When students at Helen Keller Middle School in Easton, Conn., wanted to open their hearts to tsunami victims, they found the perfect fundraising idea on the Internet: buy those popular bracelets all the kids are wearing, and half the money goes to charities like the American Red Cross.

"I want to raise money so they don't have such bad food. Then they need to have clean water," said Taylor, one of the students.

But CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports Connecticut's attorney general stepped in because the bracelet sale had not been approved.

"Since it hasn't been authorized by the Red Cross, the answer is it is illegal," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

American charities have already collected more than $350 million in contributions.

A search on the Internet under "tsunami donations" turns up an incredible number of Web pages, and the number is growing by the minute, offering more easy opportunities for con artists to prey on kindhearted donors.

The FBI is on the case with cyber-crime fighters trolling suspect Web sites and investigating complaints, including e-mails asking for donations to be wired to personal bank accounts of supposed tsunami victims.

"Right now we're seeing literally millions a day of fraudulent spam emails going out from various criminal groups," said Pete Brust, the acting deputy assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division.

Remarking on one Web site where the person claims to have been wiped out by the tsunami, Brust notes "It's appealing to the heartstrings of Americans."

Experts say the biggest way to steer clear of scams is not to respond to unsolicited emails. Don't even open them. And carefully check any Web sites to see if they are what they say they are.

A spokesman for the company selling those bracelets tells CBS News they never meant to mislead and have since changed the way they market the bracelets.

The kids chalk it all up to lessons learned in the school of hard knocks.

"Definitely don't trust everything you see on the Internet, even if it's something you are almost positive, you're almost 100 percent sure it's safe, it still might not be," says Julie, another of the students.

Now they're going back to the drawing board, searching for another way to help.




CBSNews.com list of charities taking tsunami relief donations.
  • Joel Roberts

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