Category Archives: Charity Fraud

Nepal earthquake scam: out for a duck…

(But there are plenty more where he came from…)

It was, I suppose, inevitable that the earthquake in Nepal would provide an opportunity for scammers to capitalize on the misery of others. I haven’t been tracking this particular subcategory of scamming nastiness, but a pingback on one of my articles written in 2011 for the AVIEN blog about Japanese earthquake-related scams and hoaxes – actually, a link to some of the many articles relating to those scams – drew my attention to a blog by Christopher Boyd for Malwarebytes on Nepal-related scams.

In that article, the Nepal earthquake scam he highlights is a bizarrely-expressed donations scam message claiming to be from the weirdly named ‘Coalition of Help the Displaced People’:

We write to solicits [sic] your support for the up keep [sic] of the displaced people in the recent earth quack [sic] in our Country Nepal.

He also flags an assortment of Nepal themed scam emails listed at Appriver, and a ‘dubious looking donation website’ covered in detail by Dynamoo.

Appriver’s collection includes:

  • A classic 419 claimed to be from one of the earthquake victims (daughter of a deceased politician – stop me if you’ve heard this story before…)
  • Another giving the impression it’s on behalf of the Salvation Army and World Vision: who’d have guessed that big organizations like those would use Gmail accounts? 😉
  • An exercise in guilt tripping from ‘Himalaya Assistance’ whose real purpose seemed to be to distribute a keylogger.

US-CERT also warns of ‘potential email scams’. As well as generic advice about mistrusting links and attachments and keeping security software up to date, the alert very sensibly advises the use of the Federal Trade Commission’s Charity Checklist. The FTC’s page includes sections on:

There are a number of ways of checking the bona fides of a charity, including Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) and Charity Watch, formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy (http://www.charitywatch.org).

In the UK, GetSafeOnline also has a guide to protecting yourself from charity scams, including resources for checking the status of UK charities:

I’ll leave the last word to Chris Boyd, since I couldn’t agree more and couldn’t have put it any better:

Scammers riding on the coat-tails of disasters are the lowest of the low, and we need to remain vigilant in the face of their antics – every time they clean out a bank account, they’re denying possible aid to the victims of the quake and creating all new misery elsewhere. That’s quite the achievement…

David Harley 

Japan Disaster: Commentary & Resources

[Further links added March 13th 2011 (and a couple more on the same day). Extra links and commentary appended March 14th. More commentary re the Bing chaintweet subsequently added. And yet more  on related scams added March 15th. More miscellaneous resources and commentary on 16th and 17th March. Additional links on 23rd March]

This is an attempt to bring together a number of disparate blogs highlighting resources I’ve been collecting over the past couple of days, relating to the Japanese earthquakes and tsunami. Apologies if there’s nothing here that’s new to you, but I think it’s important to spread this information as far as possible. This will now be my primary resource for putting up any further information I come across. I don’t, of course, claim that it will cover a fraction of the coverage that’s out there.

  • Some blogs of mine:
  • http://blog.eset.com/2011/03/11/japanese-earthquake-inevitable-seo 
  • http://chainmailcheck.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/earthquaketsunami-scam-resources/
  • http://blog.eset.com/2011/03/12/disaster-scams-and-resources
  • http://blog.eset.com/2011/03/11/disasters-getting-involved
  • And one more that I’ve referenced below…
  • Urban Schrott of ESET Ireland on do’s and don’t’s for safe browsing and disaster scam avoidance: http://esetireland.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/security-warning-japanese-earthquake-scams-will-send-tremors-through-the-web/
  • Paul Ducklin at Sophos on clickjacking by ibuzzu.fr: http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2011/03/12/japanese-tsunami-video-exploited-by-clickjackers/
  • Norman Ingal at Trend with some detail on observed BHSEO and fake AV: http://blog.trendmicro.com/most-recent-earthquake-in-japan-searches-lead-to-fakea/ 
  • Robert Slade at Securiteam with an older post (from the time of the Haiti earthquake – but still relevant) on training for disaster: http://blogs.securiteam.com/index.php/archives/1346
  • More analysis from Kimberley at stopmalvertising.com: http://stopmalvertising.com/blackhat-seo/recent-japanese-earthquake-search-results-lead-to-fakeav.html
  • Paul Roberts at Threat Post: http://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/experts-warn-japan-earthquake-tsunami-spam-031111
  • Guy Bruneau at Internet Storm Center: http://isc.sans.edu/diary.html?storyid=10537&rss
  • Sean at F-Secure:  http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/00002119.html 
  • Mike Lennon at Security Week: http://www.securityweek.com/massive-influx-scams-surrounding-japans-earthquake-and-tsunami-expected
  • spamwarnings.com is showing examples of spam related to this event: http://www.spamwarnings.com/tag/devastating-tsunami 
  • IRS online charities search: http://www.irs.gov/app/pub-78
  • Charity Navigator offers independent evaluation of charities: http://www.charitynavigator.org/
  • Google’s crisis response page: http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html
  • An old but much-to-the-point article on disaster scams from PC World: http://www.pcworld.com/article/61946/beware_of_online_scams_for_disasterrelief_funds.html
  • Phil Muncaster: http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2033668/google-twitter-facebook-step-help-japan-earthquake-survivors
  • Google’s People Finder service: http://japan.person-finder.appspot.com/?lang=en
  • Bing’s response page including several organizations offering relief initiatives: http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/our-actions/in-the-community/disaster-and-humanitarian-response/community-involvement/disaster-response.aspx. A useful page, but there’s an aspect to Bing’s retweeting PR effort (see http://www.twitter.com/bing) that I can’t quite like, as explained at http://chainmailcheck.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/faith-hope-charity-and-manipulation/.
  • US-CERT: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Email Scams, Fake Anitvirus and Phishing Attack Warning [Yes, the Anitvirus typo is on the web site: some useful links, nonetheless] 
  • Latest news from NHK World: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/ 
  • Graham Cluley: Japanese Tsunami RAW Tidal Wave Footage – Facebook scammers trick users with bogus CNN video
  • Morgsatlarge on Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors
  • Real photos of the damage (hat tip to Rob Slade: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/13/world/asia/satellite-photos-japan-before-and-after-tsunami.html?hp; http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/japan-earthquake/index.html. Not exactly security-related, but the sort of thing that’s being used to decoy people onto unsafe sites.
  • One from the Register that I missed at the time, though it’s basically a pointer to the Trend article above: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/11/japan_tsunami_scareware/
  • World Nuclear News: Battle to stabilise earthquake reactors
  • Lester Haines for The Register: Threat to third Fukushima nuke reactor: Authorities using seawater to battle overheating
  • Apparently I wasn’t the only person upset at Microsoft’s use of the disaster to promote Bing: BingDings* Force Change of Tune.
  • Here’s another clickjack scam brought to my attention by Graham Cluley: as he rightly says, it’s not likely to be the last. Japanese Tsunami Launches Whale Into Building? It’s a Facebook clickjack scam 
  • While Lewis Page describes in The Register how the Fukushima plant is actually performing “magnificently”, given the unexpected scale of the stress to which Japanese nuclear facilities have been subjected in the past few days: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushiima_analysis/ Even if you’re not totally convinced that this is an argument for more nuclear powerplants, it’s certainly a welcome corrective to the FUD-exploiting scareware SEO that I suspect we’ll see over the next few days.
  • Graham Cluley on an SMS hoax: Fukushima radiation hoax SMS message spreads in Philippines (clue: it’s the hoax that’s spreading, not radiation…)
  • Nuclear Energy Institute: Information on the Japanese Earthquake and Reactors in That Region
  • Lester Haines: Fukushima reactor core battle continues: May be heading for meltdown, but no Chernobyl likely
  • Stan Schroeder for Mashable: AT&T, Verizon offer free calls and texts to Japan from US 
  • Ben Parr for Mashable:  Japan Earthquake & Tsunami: 7 Simple Ways to Help
  • Technet Blog: Microsoft Supports Relief Efforts in Japan
  • USA.answers.gov summary: Current Situation in Japan
  • Christopher Boyd, GFI Labs: Another “Whale smashes into building” Tsunami scam on Facebook 
  • Allan Dyer has mentioned that SMS “BBC FLASHNEWS” hoaxes like the one Sophos flagged at http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2011/03/14/fukushima-radiation-scare-hoax-text-message-spreads-in-philippines/ have also been circulating in Hong Kong.
  • Urban Schrott with some more scam info from Facecrook and elsewhere
  • Sophos on tsunami charity scams
  • Lots more links suggesting that radiation risk is way overblown, but I think we have enough of those to get the gist. Just be sceptical about alarmist reports that you can’t verify from reputable sites.
  • Business Standard on Cybercrime sets sail on tsunami sympathy
  • Symantec on Phishers Have No Mercy for Japan describing a fake American Red Cross donation site.
  • I’m also seeing a number of posts and articles suggesting that the situation regarding affected nuclear facilities is getting worse: I’m not qualified to separate fact and fiction in many of these cases, so I won’t try to track them here.
  • Allan Dyer describes one of the SMS hoaxes and a donation scam message pretending to be from AT&T: http://articles.yuikee.com.hk/newsletter/2011/03/a.html
  • Graham Cluley describes several Japan-related video links that actually lead to malicious javascript and a Java applet, plus some fake twitter email notifications: Spammed-out Japanese Tsunami video links lead to malware attack. See also Chet Wisniewski’s post SSCC 52 – Twitter HTTPS, net neutrality, car hacking, tsunami scams and Pwn2Own.
  • Jimmy Kuo forwarded a reliable donation link at at http://www.jas-socal.org/, and here’s a post from Tracy Mooney on charitable giving .
  • A series of other blogs from McAfee: http://blogs.mcafee.com/mcafee-labs/world-record-for-disaster-scam-site; http://blogs.mcafee.com/consumer/robert-siciliano/tsunami-scam-warnings-keep-coming-in; http://blogs.mcafee.com/consumer/consumer-threat-alerts/japan-earthquake-scams-spreading-quickly
  • Christopher Boyd on Japan “Miracle Stories” scams on Youtube… and Rogue AV results lurk in contamination comparison searches and ICRC Japan donation scam mails and .tk URLs offering surveys, installs and fake Tsunami footage and Tips for avoiding the endless Japan disaster files and A Japan-themed 419 scam…
  • Crawford Killian is tweeting a lot of more general Japan-related stuff that might be useful to you as background rather than as direct security stuff. http://twitter.com/Crof (hat tip to Rob Slade.)
  • Nicholas Brulez: Japan Quake Spam leads to Malware
  • John Leyden for The Register: Fake Japan blackout alerts cloak Flash malware: Scumbags continue to batten on human misery
  • Not directly security-related, but I can see it being used as a social-engineering hook: Timothy Prickett Morgan on Japanese quake shakes semiconductor biz: Boards and chip packages hit too.
  • An article by Amanda Ripley that has no direct security implication that I can see offhand, but I thought was interesting anyway: http://www.amandaripley.com/blog/japan_and_the_cliche_of_stoicism/
  • I probably won’t continue to add too many resources to this page that don’t have a direct and compelling security dimension, but if you are interested in the sort of footage of exploding reactors, tsunami hits and so on that blackhats use as bait for fake AV and clickjacking, the BBC has quite a few relevant videos: I know that because I watch the news. 🙂 I haven’t looked up individual links, but a quick Google search brings up several at http://www.bbc.co.uk/: no doubt searches of CNN etc. would bring up similar results. There’s lots of this stuff out there: no need to click on dubious links from unknown sources!

    David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
    AVIEN COO
    ESET Senior Research Fellow

    

    Haiti Relief Scams

    It’s been a while since I talked about Haiti.

    First of all, I’m delighted to report that Jeff’s father turned up very much alive.

    Less happily, Tom Kelchner of Sunbelt has flagged a story in USA Today that claims that more than 170 complaints have been received by federal law enforcement agencies relating to earthquake relief scams. Scams specifically mentioned include:

    • SEO poisoning directing search-engine users towards sites laced with rogue anti-malware
    • Door-to-door collectors for fake charities
    • 419-type emails from alleged victims or officials
    • SMS scams where text messages invite potential victims to ring a number to get more misinformation
    • Similar scams using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
    • Fraudulent charity web sites.

    One fake charity I found particularly galling, as a Brit, was the one that claimed to be a British affiliate of the American Red Cross. Come on, guys, we’ve had our very own Red Cross since 1870 (some years before the foundation of the American Red Cross), though it wasn’t called called the British Red Cross Society until 1905. Of course, there’s no particular reason why most Americans should know about the British Red Cross as a matter of general knowledge, but this does illustrate the importance of checking the validity of a charitable organization before you contribute to it. Of course, you also need to be sure that where the charity is real, the collection mechanism is also genuine!

    USA Today recommends Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) and the American Institute of Philanthropy (http://www.charitywatch.org) as a means of checking the charitable status of an organization.

    David Harley FBCS CITP CISSP
    Security Author/Consultant at Small Blue-Green World
    Chief Operations Officer, AVIEN
    ESET Research Fellow & Director of Malware Intelligence

    Also blogging at:
    http://www.eset.com/threat-center/blog
    http://smallbluegreenblog.wordpress.com/
    http://blogs.securiteam.com
    http://blog.isc2.org/
    http://dharley.wordpress.com
    http://macviruscom.wordpress.com