Katrina Internet Charity Scams Try to Dupe Donors

The American Red Cross has asked the FBI to investigate at least 15 fake Web sites that are designed to look like legitimate Red Cross appeals for donations to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"It's outrageous what they are doing to American citizens who are giving their hard-earned money to help people who desperately need their help," said Mary Elcano, the general counsel for the American Red Cross. "There's no question in my mind that these are the lowest of the low."

Internet fraud experts tell ABC News that in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, they saw scammers registering dozens of Web sites with Katrina in their names.

On Wednesday, Missouri Attorney General Jeremiah W. Nixon filed suit against a Missouri not-for-profit corporation that was soliciting donations to assist only white victims of the hurricane under the names Katrinafund.name and Neworleanscharities.com

Same Graphics and Typeface as the Real Thing

In Florida, the attorney general moved to shut down two other fraudulent Web sites that also had Katrina in their names.

"Within two days after the hurricane hit, they put their content up and sent e-mails to millions of people," explained Dan Hubbard, senior director of Security and Technology Research for Websense, Inc.

One such e-mail looks like a legitimate Hurricane Katrina plea from the Red Cross. It contains the standard credit card information form as well as the same graphics, typeface and security logo in the corner as used by the real Red Cross.

"So they're making you believe that this is a secured site," said Hubbard, "and that it has been verified when indeed, obviously, it has not."

It is an ingenious fake, which has since been traced to scammers in Brazil. Officials say the site is extremely sophisticated with one final twist to dupe contributors.

"What happens when you click on donate," Hubbard said, "the information that you've entered actually gets sent to the third party, and then what happens is you get redirected to the real Red Cross Web site, which even makes it look more real."

Similar phony sites have been traced to Korea, China and the United States in the last few days, according to the Red Cross.

The organization says it will attempt to recoup any money lost and press for prosecution.

The Red Cross never sends out e-mail solicitations. Anyone who receives one can assume it is a fake. Under the Patriot Act, impersonating an agent of the Red Cross is considered a felony and punishable by up to five years in prison.

ABC News' David Scott and Avni Patel contributed to this report.

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