Experts warn of hurricane-related website scams

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With powerful Hurricane Gustav making landfall in Louisiana, internet users are being reminded that not every storm-related website is a benign one.

For the past several days, handlers at the SANS Internet Storm Center have listed scores of recently launched websites that refer in some way to Gustav, a potent storm that is being blamed for some 100 deaths in the United States and Caribbean. It has since been downgraded to a tropical depression, after ravaging Louisiana with heavy rain and fierce winds.

"Many of the domain names being registered are legitimate and are redirecting to sites that support law-abiding charities," Marcus Sachs, the Storm Center's director, wrote Monday in a blog post. "Unfortunately though, many more are either parked in a 'for sale' status, or are associated with IP addresses known to host malicious software, spyware, or other hazardous content."

Buying up domain names that refer to popular news events is not uncommon, as individuals hope to either sell the domains or earn money through click-through advertising revenue.

However, sometimes their motives turn malicious, as was evidenced for the first time on a widespread basis following Hurricane Katrina. In that case, a number of bogus websites popped up that claimed to be legitimate charities, such as the American Red Cross.

Meanwhile, US-CERT warned Monday that phishing purveyors may also be looking to exploit Gustav. Individuals are advised to be wary of emails that appear as requests to donate money to a legitimate donation.

Users should consult the Better Business Bureau's list of charities to affirm an organization's legitimacy.

And with Tropical Storm Hannah on a collision course with South Carolina for later in the week, these natural disasters scams could be around for a while, experts said.

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