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Unscrupulous e-mail seeks unwary hearts

September 26, 2001 

Americans are big-hearted, but right now our hearts are vulnerable.

We're vulnerable to sad stories, and there are so many of them out there because of what happened Sept. 11.

While it seems like everyone wants to help in some way, there are some unscrupulous types out there who are only too happy to prey on our wounded souls.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint effort of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, has issued a warning about e-mails that could be coming your way in the days, weeks and months ahead.

These e-mails may be seeking money from you for the families of those killed in the attacks, including firefighters and police officers, as well as the passengers of the four doomed aircraft and those who were in or around the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The unsolicited e-mails may include Web links for you to click on, so that you can go right to a site where you can donate money by entering your credit card number and related information.

Don't do it.

There are many reputable organizations that take online donations.

But there are some online scams out there that could mislead you as you click your mouse, even misdirect you to what seems to be a legitimate Web site, but is not.

Guard credit card information

Here's what the Internet Fraud Complaint Center recommends:

You should obtain a valid Web site for donations, "independently of any unsolicited e-mail."

You might want to contact the Better Business Bureau before sending any credit card information, money or checks to an organization.

Don't include your credit card number in your e-mail "to any organization unless you are certain that it is a legitimate organization."

"Additionally, you may wish to ensure that when you do provide your credit card number via e-mail, that you do so only if your e-mail will be encrypted."

For example, the American Red Cross, on its Web site, provides information about a variety of ways to contribute.

But, it says, if an online donation is desired, "Internet users can make a secure online credit card contribution ... via any (Web) browser supporting the 'https' security protocol such as Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, AOL's version 3, Spyglass, and others. If your browser doesn't support https, you will get an error message when trying to access the donation form."

A good place to begin

There is an online site you may want to visit if you want to donate. It's

The site was put together after Sept. 11 by the Internet's big players: AOL Time Warner,, Cisco Systems, eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo.

At the site, you will find links to many worthy organizations seeking your help. Any one of them could be a good match for you. And, like you, they have a lot of heart.

Copyright © 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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