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9/7/2005
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Nigerian Scams Spin Katrina

In one scheme, the writer claims to be a Mexican national working on a rescue team in New Orleans in need of money.

Nigerian-style scams that use the ongoing Katrina disaster are beginning to appear, said a security firm Wednesday.

In the typical 419 scam -- so called because of the numbering of the relevant code in Nigeria’s criminal law, and made popular by Nigerian-based fraudsters -- criminals send out spam promising recipients a share of a fortune supposedly inaccessible to the sender. In return for an upfront fee -- and therein lies the scam -- the recipient is told he’ll collect millions.

"The 419 scammers have decided to see if they can get a piece of the [Katrina] pie," said Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs in an alert posted to its site Wednesday. "[This sample] has all the hallmarks of a classic 419 - grammar and spelling mistakes and a large sum of money."

In the mass-mailed e-mail, the writer claims to be a Mexican national and illegal alien who works on a rescue team in New Orleans. "In a relief effort to save the lives of the indigenes, I personally made a recovery of some treasure boxes which belong to a private banking firm, here in New Orleans. These boxes which are currently in my possession were found to be containing uncountable number of defaced foreign currencies, which ranges from United States Dollars down to Japanese Yens, thus running into hundreds of millions of U.S. Dollars when converted," the scam goes.

"I have so far decided to undisclose [sic] these funds to the "Federal Emergency Management Agency", pending my personal use, soon after this disaster as things come back to normal in New Orleans," the mail continues.

As in all Nigerian or 419 scams, greedy respondents may end up stung to the tune of thousands that they're asked to pay in good faith deposits, or may see their bank accounts looted by the fraudsters when they convince the victim to hand over account and PIN numbers so the reward can be transferred by wire.

In other Katrina scam news Wednesday, the SANS Internet Storm Center (ISC) Wednesday noted that registrations for sites with the word "katrina" have fallen off sharply since Friday, September23.

By the ISC's count, Katrina site registrations topped out at just over 400 on September 2, then dropped precipitously.

Although some of these new sites are "well-meaning" legitimate URLs actually collecting relief funds, these "are indistinguishable from fake 'cyber looting' sites," said the ISC in an alert of its own.

Warnings about possible scams and phishing schemes relying on Katrina have been made by officials and security firms since the day the hurricane made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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