Monday, January 23, 2006

An Especially Cynical Scam E-mail

I get quite a lot of spam and don't even bother to look at most of it, but today one caught my eye. It appears at first glance to be an appeal from a children's charity, but in fact it's a scammer trying to steal your credit card information.

This particular scam targets the Children's Hunger Relief Fund of UNICEF, but that detail is incidental. The scam uses images loaded directly from the CHRF web site to make it appear to be an authentic appeal for aid for children in countries like Rwanda, Kenya, and Sudan, but the link to donate actually goes to a hijacked web site that calls itself "GOD REGINS." [their typo, not mine!]

The CHRF is real, and UNICEF is real, and both send desperately needed aid to children in some of the most devastated communities in the world, so how can you tell whether an e-mail like the one I received is authentic?

The first tip-off is right in the main headers of the message. The return address is and the e-mail was sent through There's nothing particularly suspicious about an individual using MSN or Hotmail for personal e-mail, but no serious charity would do either. A more subtle point is that the e-mail originated in Israel, with a British cellphone as a contact number, and a web site in Los Angeles. The hijacked web site domain name,, is unregistered, besides which it is a "dot-com" for a charity — very unlikely. If you pull up the web site, it becomes even more obvious that it is a scam. The United Nations would not risk alienating people of all the various religions of the world by calling its web portal "GODREIGNS AGENCY," and more importantly, the site asks you for your credit card number and other details, but never asks for a donation amount, never tells you what you're buying, and provides no street address, telephone number, or other information about the entity that will bill you some unknown amount.

There are children starving in many parts of the world. I encourage you to support CHRF or other responsible charities, but I also encourage you to watch out for scams that may try to exploit your generosity without sending a single penny to starving children.