Scammers are preying on people's good will by soliciting donations for victims of the tsunami disaster, then stealing the money or hijacking the donor's identity, law enforcement officials say.
Officials in several states, including Florida, have issued alerts this week warning people to be careful when they donate to relief efforts. People should be particularly wary of phone calls or e-mails seeking money and personal banking information.
Though there have been no scam reports yet in Florida, officials alerted the public "as a pre-emptive strike because we know they're coming," said Tom Berlinger, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
FDLE officials learned of an e-mail purportedly sent by a British group called "The Foundation for Victims of Flood and Earthquake" and another soliciting aid to the "Tsunamis Disaster Help Funds."
Also Wednesday, the FBI said one fraudulent relief Web site had a Trojan virus that could infect computers if people access it. The bureau has also received reports of unsolicited e-mails asking for a fee to help find loved ones in Asia.
A man in Britain has pleaded guilty to sending e-mails to missing people's relatives, offering information he didn't have in exchange for money, said Bob Breeden, a special agent supervisor of the FDLE's Computer Crime Center.
Some e-mails trick recipients into providing personal information such as credit card and Social Security numbers.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office urged people to donate directly to charities.
Powell: Don't panic
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia _ Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Wednesday tried to allay fears that thousands of Americans may have lost their lives, saying he did not believe "the numbers will be anything like what some of our fellow nations have suffered over the last week." The State Department announced that the number of Americans presumed killed is 36, including 20 added Wednesday to the list. Nine of those people were in Sri Lanka and 27 in Thailand. News reports have cited as many as 2,900 missing. This is a list of Americans "unaccounted for," meaning a concerned relative had called a State Department hotline.
In most cases, U.S. officials believe, people on this list were likely nowhere near the coastal areas hit by the tsunami, but parents or other relatives were concerned because they were traveling somewhere in the region. Then, once they discovered their child was safe, the callers never contacted the State Department again.
Powell represented the United States at a conference that began late Wednesday night in Jakarta to coordinate aid. He has announced no new commitment of U.S. money during his four-day visit to Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, although the current pledge of $350-million is expected to increase.
World leaders opened the conference with a moment of silence for tsunami victims, then focused on how to rush aid to survivors.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the world was in a race against time to get food, medicine and supplies to the neediest.
"The disaster was so brutal, so quick, and so far-reaching, that we are still struggling to comprehend it," Annan said.
Information from the Associated Press and other news organizations was used in this report.
ON THE SCENE: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, right, survey damage in Indonesia Wednesday. They are with Indonesian welfare minister Alwi Shihab, center. After they flew over Banda Aceh in a helicopter, Powell said it was the worst destruction he had ever seen. Bush said: "It is with a heavy heart that we're here."