Beware, online scammers thrive after tragedy (video)

After disasters like last week's Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Internet scammers love to take advantage of people's vulnerabilities and generosity. Kara Tsuboi reports on schemes to look out for when you're online.

Kara Tsuboi Reporter
Kara Tsuboi has covered technology news for CNET and CBS Interactive for nearly seven years. From cutting edge robotics at NASA to the hottest TVs at CES to Apple events in San Francisco, Kara has reported on it all. In addition to daily news, twice every week her "Tech Minutes" are broadcast to CBS TV stations across the country.
Kara Tsuboi
2 min read

It's impossible to spend time online right now and not see pleas to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. But whether we're simply trying to watch videos to see the extent of the destruction or looking for ways to donate money, one must click nimbly click to get around the scams and phishing schemes that abound in the wake of tragedy.

My colleague, Elinor Mills, wrote a fantastic article with examples of recent scams and included tips on what you can do to avoid catching a computer virus or losing money to a phony relief organization. After reading her piece, we thought it was "news you could use," so we translated it into an informative video for the CBS television audience.

In my interview with Elinor (which you can see in the video below), what amazed me most was how these unscrupulous scammers intentionally prey on people's vulnerability and generosity after tragedy strikes. If you're like me and couldn't take your eyes away from the video pouring out of Japan in the last week, then you can understand how easy it would be to follow a bad link advertising more dramatic footage. This happened to one colleague when he clicked on a link that his friend appeared to have posted on his Facebook wall. Of course, it led to a dead end with no video, but had Josh clicked further, it too would have populated his Facebook friends' walls with these bogus links. This particular phishing scheme may not have been harmful, but it sure is annoying.

And then there's the fraudulent side of this trend--those scammers who greedily take money by directing generous people to bad Web sites or erroneous e-mail addresses. Elinor shared an example of the supposed Red Cross of Britain sending people to a Yahoo e-mail address to collect donations. Really? You think the Red Cross uses a Yahoo address? But, sadly, I'm sure many people fell for it and handed over their relief dollars to these impostors. My advice to readers is to stay curious and stay generous, just navigate the Web with care and a thoughtful eye.

Watch this: After tragedies, scammers thrive