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13 Jan 2006

FBI warns of West Virginia mining disaster scam email

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The scam email claims to come from a medic treating a victim of the disaster.

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have warned of an email scam that attempts to fool computer users into thinking they are giving money to the sole survivor of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia. Worries that scammers may attempt to defraud internet users who were touched by news of the tragedy has lead the FBI to issue a warning on its website.

The emails, which claim to come from physician caring for Randal McCloy, the only survivor of the mining disaster, ask for money to fund the patient's treatment.

Part of the message, which claims to come from Dr Lawrence Roberts of West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital, reads as follows:

We needed your generous financial assistance to our beloved citizen, brother and friend Mr. Randal McCloy to enable him undergo all the Surgical Operations and Medical treatments which will cost Several Millions of Dollars in serving his life and bringing him to his normal state of life.

The messages go on to say:

no amount is too small or big for us to undergo the surgical operation.

However, authorities have confirmed that Dr Roberts did not send the emails and his name and that of Randal McCloy are being used without their permission. Mr McCloy remains in a critical condition in hospital.

"Sick criminals are deliberately using the mining disaster in an attempt to steal from others, without a thought for the families of the victims, who have surely been through enough anguish," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Everyone should be wary of emails such as these, as it is a common trick used by fraudsters to steal money and bank account information."

Agents at the FBI's Pittsburgh bureau are investigating the origin of the messages.

"This is not the first time that scammers have exploited human tragedy in their attempt to steal money from innocent people," continued Cluley. "Last year we saw scams associated with the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist bombings in London. These internet criminals are trying to fill their bank accounts on the back of an outpouring of sympathy from the general public."

Sophos recommends companies automatically update their corporate virus protection, and run a consolidated solution at the email gateway to defend against viruses and spam.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.