The new breed of e-mails, which contain pleas for financial help, are exemplified by one received by ZDNet Australia recently. The e-mail is from a "Ram-Kisha Narayan," who claims to be a fisherman who lost his wife and three children in Kalutara, Sri Lanka because of the Boxing Day tidal wave.
Kalutara is a resort town located approximately 40 kilometres south of Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. The author then asks for financial assistance in behalf of the cooperative union of fishers in Kalutara. It went on to say that the funds will be used "to buy fisher boats or repair the damaged boats to return to normal life and also to master our future."
The sender then asks people to send their donations to a bank account in Postbank, located in Groningen, Netherlands.
Mark Sinclair, technical services manager from antivirus and content security provider Trend Micro confirmed that hoax e-mails referring to the tidal waves were starting to appear in Australia. While he could not absolutely confirm the "Ram-Kisha Naryan" e-mail was fraudulent, he said it had all the hallmarks of a hoax.
He said Trend Micro was "closely watching for hoax e-mails especially scams associated with the tsunami disaster".
"It is very sad that scam artists should prey on the generosity of people, especially during such times of tragedy. We are adding such e-mails to our anti-spam policy updates to help ensure that users are shielded from such attempts," Sinclair said.
A sample hoax e-mail found by Trend Micro comes from another "victim" in Phuket, Thailand, who claims to have run a bar and restaurant before the tragedy. The scam e-mail details the events on how he lost his wife, five sons, daughter and other family members during the flood.
"I still remembers [sic] vividly how my beautiful daughter was calling me daddy to come and save her, but there was nothing I could do, because the flood was very heavy and dangerous. I myself was clutching unto a telephone pole. It was very painful as I watched my only daughter being washed away by the deadly flood, you need to see the fear in her eyes. She just came with my son in-law to spend some time with me for the Christmas holiday when tragedy struck without warning. That was the last day I saw my daughter, my son in-law, my five sons and other family members and up till this moment that I?m writing to you I have not seen their corpses or heard anything about them," the message said.
The Thai "victim" is asking recipients of the e-mail to send the money through Western Union to a Mr. Eric Minty with a London address. He claims that Minty is the tourist who brought him to London to see how people can help him start his life again.
Other Nigerian-style scams include one pretending to be from a Singaporean charity organisation which asks people to donate money via Western Union transfer to help victims of the tsunami disaster. The e-mail has been traced from Lagos in Nigeria.
Scammers often ride current affairs to add legitimacy to their plea.
Last year, a Melbourne financial adviser fell victim to a Nigerian scam and was sentenced to five years and three months in jail after using AU$1 million of his clients' money to pay the "fees" required by the scammer.