Man charged in Katrina Web scam

Feds allege he fraudulently solicited donations intended for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Alorie Gilbert
Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
2 min read
A Florida man who collected nearly $40,000 over the Web for Hurricane Katrina humanitarian relief was indicted on fraud charges Monday.

According to the indictment, Florida resident Gary Kraser allegedly used e-mail and the Web site AirKatrina.com to dupe nearly 50 people out of their money over a two-day period. He claimed to be flying medical supplies to Louisiana and helping to evacuate children and sick people in his plane, the indictment said.

Kraser is the first person that the United States has charged with Internet fraud linked to Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. Internet security experts have warned of numerous online scams designed to exploit charitable giving in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

In its statement, the agency alleged that Kraser had fabricated detailed accounts of rescue missions, including the following message from Aug. 30:

"I am shaking as I write this, as I just arrived home, and just now allowed my body and mind to accept what I saw tonight...I saw dogs wrapped in electrical lines still alive and sparks flying from their bodies being electrocuted, as well as some people dead already. If I had a helicopter, I would be there now rather than back in FL...I'm so sorry I couldn't do more...I'm crying and hugging my dog next to me now...I will hear these screams for the rest of my life."

The following day, Kraser claimed to have rescued a baby. "If we didn't have the plane, I don't think the little baby would have survived...She is undergoing transplant surgery at this moment I am writing...7 mos old, and smiling the whole way, as if she knew."

Kraser said he had personally funded the relief flights and asked for donations to purchase the fuel. Kraser collected victims' money through a PayPal account as well as via wire transfers directly to his bank account, according to the indictment.

PayPal, the online payment subsidiary of eBay, was quick to cooperate with the investigation, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Kraser stands charged with four counts of wire fraud, the agency said. His arrest was led by R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael Clemens, an FBI special agent.

Kraser could not be reached for comment on Monday.