If you're looking for news on the tsunami and quake that has hit Japan, or want to find ways to donate to relief efforts, you should keep your guard up. Scammers and online criminals are exploiting the disaster in Japan to lure in unsuspecting victims in order to steal personal information or load your PC with malware.
According to an alert put out by McAfee, cybercriminals are using classic phishing tactics to scam people. These scammers are creating fake websites and email campaigns to solicit donations for Japan relief efforts. They look like they're from well-known charities, but are actually fronts to steal your personal information and credit card details. McAfee also notes that these sites are also coming up in searches for quake news.
Worse, to quote McAfee, "you could get a spam email that appears to be a personal plea from a victim or aid worker, asking for monetary help. For instance, we found a spam from a woman claiming to be a "humanitarian" setting up a fund to help the victims, and asking for donations."
In addition, McAfee says that scammers are spreading links that purportedly go to videos of the disaster, but instead the links downloads malware to your PC or take you do a phishing page. And of course, you should beware of similar phishing attempts on social networks.
McAfee recommends several tips to avoid getting taken: don't respond to email, text message, or IM donation requests; be wary of links promoting videos or photos from the quake zone; and keep in mind that .org Website addresses don't necessarily mean that a site is legitimate.
The best advice is to stick with charities you know and trust. Donating to established charity organisations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, or Save the Children (among others) is the best way to go. And you should always navigate to the site's website directly by typing its address into your browser instead of clicking email links. For more on how to avoid getting scammed, see this article. So donate what you can, but use some common sense, and think before you click that link.