Buyer: Ernesto domain names not for fraud

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An Oregon grad student said today that he had no intention of scamming people when he registered a number of Hurricane Ernesto-related domain names.

Julian Luby, 29, of Portland, Ore., a graduate student at Portland State University, said he registered the URLs to both write about the storm and potentially profit through the sale of ads and the domains.

"The main intent was to write about the issue," Luby said today. "I'm from the South originally. I'm from Pascagula, Miss. It was messed up by Hurricane Katrina. My intent was not to defraud anyone."

As for attempting to sell the domain names for profit, Luby said: "That is what real estate people do."

A spike in the number of registered Ernesto-related domain names, as the storm continues moving north, had some information security experts thinking fraud could be on the way, too.

Johannes Ullrich of the SANS Internet Storm Center said Tuesday on the group's website that 19 new domains containing the word Ernesto have been registered since the storm gained notoriety. Of those, 18 are related to the tropical storm, and 17 have been registered by one person.

Many of the sites are parked, but experts said the pages could be used for fraudulent practices, in the same way the Hurricane Katrina name was exploited on various websites following last year's devastating Gulf Coast storm.

"Last year, we had a big number of fraudulent sites asking for donations for Katrina victims," said Ullrich, SANS' chief research officer. "We are afraid that similar issues may arise this year."

Luby said he was not worried about potential buyers using the sites to conduct fraud.

"My intention was not to sell the domain name to fraudsters but to people who could better cover the storm than myself," he said, adding that any money raised would go toward his organization, theworldpipeline.com, whose intent is to cover events on art, community, music and sustainability across the world.

Ernesto, a far cry from the devastating Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast a year ago, was downgraded to a tropical depression as it makes landfall today on the south Florida coast.

Click here to email reporter Dan Kaplan.

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