The emails, which claim to come from a physician caring for Randal McCloy, the only survivor of the mining disaster, asks for money to fund the patient's treatment.
Part of the message, claiming to come from Dr. Lawrence Roberts of a West Virginian 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, Roberts did not send the emails, and his name and that of McCloy are being used without their permission. 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, added 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."