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First Katrina, Now Web Scams

It's difficult enough for the people in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to recover. It's a task made all the harder by Internet scam artists trying to rake in a share of badly needed contributions for Katrina relief.

Last week, the FBI placed the number of Web sites claiming to deal in Katrina relief at "2,300 and rising." And Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist filed a civil lawsuit against Robert E. Moneyhan, 51, of Yulee, who created several Katrina-related Web sites, none of which, the suit said, was a legitimate charitable operation.

Crist said the Web domain names were registered as early as Aug. 28 -- before Katrina had made landfall on the upper Gulf Coast, and were asking visitors to "share YOUR good fortune with Hurricane Katrina's victims" by contributing to an account Moneyhan had set up. The suit seeks $10,000 in civil penalties and restitution of donations.

"The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has elicited an agonizing plea for help, and thankfully countless Americans are responding from the bottom of their hearts," Crist said. "The thought that someone would seek to pervert relief efforts when assistance is so desperately needed is truly appalling."

Crist noted that Moneyhan did not file registration documents that must be completed for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services before solicitation can begin. Moneyhan also claimed that "100 percent of all donations" would be used for relief. Crist said that was a misrepresentation because the PayPal account established by Moneyhan charged a 2.9 percent collection fee. Crist obtained an injunction to close the sites.

At the same time, the Missouri attorney general sued the registrant of several Web sites for violations of the state's fund-raising laws and for "omitting the material fact that the ultimate company behind the defendants' Web sites supports white supremacy."

Audri Lanford, co-director of ScamBusters.org, an Internet clearinghouse for online-fraud information, said, based on observed volume of scams, "We're seeing about four times as many scams as we saw with the tsunami disaster."

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