An unofficial tsunami relief website suspected of trying to defraud charitable Australians was started by a Hobart 19-year-old whose uncle went missing in the Boxing Day tragedy.
Tasmanian detectives and the Red Cross over the weekend were alerted to the presence of a website at www.incybernet.com that appeared to be asking for donations for the Red Cross' tsunami relief effort.
The website had no official connection to the Red Cross or any other charity.
Subsequent police investigation revealed the website was set up by a Hobart 19-year-old genuinely trying to raise funds to help the millions displaced by the 26 December earthquake and tsunamis that devastated coastlines by the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 140,000 dead and millions homeless.
Jason Hutcheon, a detective senior constable at Hobart Police, said the young man had "no idea" his two-day-old website could be interpreted as an attempt to defraud until he began receiving threats from strangers and phone calls from news media, including giant US-based news network CNN.
"He hasn't received any donations," he said. "He's received a number of threatening emails from people and realised it wasn't the thing to do."
The 19-year-old was in the process of posting an apology on the website when police contacted him. "He has an uncle that's still missing and he's quite in awe of the whole seriousness of the issue," Hutcheon said.
The website was taken down this morning - an act which had not been a result of the police investigation, Hutcheon said.
Media reports yesterday, 3 January, said the website mentioned charities such as Red Cross and World Vision and had Red Cross logos and photography on it that had apparently been used without permission.
A mobile phone number and Glenorchy address for donations had also appeared on the site.
The website allegedly claimed it had raised $10,000 for its appeal, and said: "A 9.0 earthquake has unleashed devastating tsunamis on coastal areas throughout Asia, killing more than 80,000 and leaving a million homeless ...
"Now we urgently need your support. Your gift today will rush food and Family Survival Kits to Asian countries affected by the 26 December earthquake and tsunami, and provide other relief as needed."
Hutcheon said the 19-year-old had seen similar websites overseas and thought he would try to do something similar.
"And it was hosted by a US free dot com. So we thought there could be something [fraudulent] in it," Hutcheon said. "CNN contacted him and they asked if he had permission to use the Red Cross logos and things like that."
Malicious attempts to deceive members of the public about the tsunami and its victims have already occurred around the world.
Britich police recently charged a 40-year-old with sending fake death notices to friends of relatives who had posted appeals for information on a Sky News website.
The emails purported to be from Thailand's Foreign Office Bureau. The man was charged with "malicious communication and causing a public nuisance".
Another British resident has been arrested on similar charges.
Meanwhile, sellers on eBay have reportedly begun claiming that auction proceeds will go directly to charities assisting tsunami victims.
Another website, tsunamirelief.aid.com, with no known affiliation to any of the official relief organisations appeared recently asking for relief packages and money to be sent to a post office box in a small American town.
Anti-fraud watchdog Fraud-aid.com warns internet users to beware of requests for aid from unknown sources. Nigerian-style scammers were sure to add the tsunami disaster to their repertoire of deceit.
Examples were likely to include requests for money to be transferred to help tsunami victims, talk about Indian Government invoices, ask for help with unclaimed funds left by victims, and purport to discuss proposals for clean-up work in the wake of the disaster, Fraud-aid.com said.