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Further to Seiiti's post about charity fraud in Haiti, this was on the BBC website this morning.

E-mail scams exploiting Haiti earthquake generosity

Razia Iqbal and the BBC team confront one of the fraudsters

Criminal gangs have been cashing in on the Haiti earthquake by seeking funds for bogus charities via millions of spam e-mails, a BBC investigation has learned.

The Haiti earthquake led to millions of pounds being raised to help people with next to nothing who, literally overnight, found they had even less.

But alongside genuine appeals and donations, something more sinister started to emerge.

Within days, scam e-mails began appearing on the internet. Some had what looked like logos from genuine charities.

One said it was from the British Red Cross, but was traced to a computer in Nigeria; another used the Unicef logo, but was nothing to do with them.

Our investigation focused on two e-mails. One was from a charity called Help the World, which is not registered with the Charity Commission.

'Mouths of children'

A camp in Pakistan
Criminal gangs stole this image from genuine charity SOS Children

There was a mobile number on the e-mail which we rang. A man responded and told us how the funds they were raising were being used.

He told us: "We are repairing the centre of the disaster in Haiti. We focus on the schools in Haiti. We have to let the children have their future back, you know without education there's no future."

None of this was true. Scam e-mails tend to list only mobile numbers, which a bona fide charity would steer clear of.

We checked with the Charity Commission, who have no record of Help the World.

However, unusually for such e-mails, there was a London address which we checked out. It turned out to be a jazz and blues bar.

A second group we investigated called itself the M E Foundation and was also not registered with the Charity Commission.

In the e-mails, a Mr David Isco Iker was said to be running the charity. I asked him how they were getting their donations and what they were using the money for.

He said: "We get mostly phone donations... mostly for food, medical supplies."

'Very sophisticated'

A fake identity card
The BBC has passed this fake ID card to police after its investigation

This was all also untrue. Unsolicited, the M E Foundation sent us photographs of the Haiti projects they said they were involved with.

One showed rows of white tents with a logo on each one. We discovered the camp belonged to the well established Cambridge-based charity, SOS Children.

Chief executive of SOS Children, Andrew Cates, told us the picture was one of theirs, cut and pasted from their website, and not from Haiti, but from the Pakistani earthquake a few years ago.

He said: "The problem is it's not just about exploiting a donor or a charity, really they're exploiting the victims. Because they're taking money people want to give to the victims of these natural disasters and they're stealing it.

"So I don't feel that they're robbing me, I feel that they're taking from the mouths of children we're trying to help and that is something which is very difficult not to get angry about."

HOW TO AVOID SCAMS
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">Make sure emails are genuine. If you have any concerns about a request for donations that appears to come from a charity, contact the charity directly
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">Ask for a charity collector's identification and the charity's name and registration number
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">Check if a charity is on the public register of charities atwww.charitycommission.gov.uk
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">If you think you have been targeted, report it to the police or contact the Charity Commission
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">If you want to donate to a particular charity online, visit the charity's website
http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/img/v4/bullet_rb.gif); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; background-position: 1px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">Source: Charity Commission

Research from the Office of Fair Trading shows that last year, around two million people were conned out of cash via scam e-mails of various kinds.

But given the scale and nature of the Haiti tragedy, there is something quite different about this cyber crime.

Richard Hurley from Cifas, the UK's fraud prevention service, said: "They're very sophisticated and with that sophistication goes a large level of a very insidious nature which deliberately preys on your feelings for those innocent victims and your desire to help them.

"So it's making use of human suffering and the best in human nature at the same time simply for commercial profit."

The evidence against the M E Foundation was piling up. Their listed address in London turned out to be a newsagents which had been there for 20 years.

The newsagent said he was offended to learn that people were stealing money from others and using his address as a cover.

The other address listed for the M E Foundation was in Malaga, so we went there to try to talk to the people involved. We told our contact in Spain we would send our donation for the charity via courier.

The address given to us was in a run-down area of Malaga, and our courier waited for the contact. It all happened in a flash.

Our courier spoke to the man, in Spanish, very briefly. He clearly identified himself as the man I had spoken to.

However, as soon as the BBC team appeared with a camera and a microphone, he fled, shedding his coat, flip flops, and fake ID.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8517243.stm

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Comment by Deirdre Williams on July 28, 2010 at 7:26pm
At the beginning of this discussion, back in January, I said that the most important thing we could do for Haiti is to remember. The Cardicis meeting http://cardicis3.org/reunion_cardicis3_en.htm I attended in June in the Dominican Republic was about practical applications of ICT in a civil society initiative to help Haiti. At that meeting I met Yaovi-Siko Kokouvi, currently based in France but originally from Togo. He sent an account of his recent visit to Haiti and I asked him for permission to share it with you. It is written in French, but I think you can hear his voice satisfactorily through the Google automatic translation to English. This is not directly about Internet Governance policy, but I hope it demonstrates how the Internet can remind us how small the world really is, and how unfairly life and the world deal with some of us.
Haïti, 12 jours au milieu des tombes (1).pdf

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