The recent tsunami tragedy has led to an outpouring of worldwide sympathy, with many people wondering what they should do to help. First, we can determine what we should not do...

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The recent tsunami tragedy has led to an outpouring of worldwide sympathy, with many people wondering what they should do to help. First, we can determine what we should not do: answer any call for help through an e-mail link, or give money to an online source solicited through these channels.

And this should be common sense. “People still disconnect their brains when they connect to the Internet,” said Andrew Lee, chief technology officer of security vendor Eset Software of San Diego. “Their brains get soft. They still fall for these scams, and spammers don’t have to get a very big response in order to make some money.”

Lee said people still fall for the “Nigerian scam,” which plays on greed and the idea you can get something for nothing. Even if they are wise to this they may still fall for a variation — like a message from someone who is trying to get money out of an Indonesian bank.

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Other scams masquerade as tsunami relief, with graphics identical to well-known organizations’ sites. Victims of these scams may be easier marks than someone who is trying to get rich because they don’t expect any return on their money. They may not even know they were robbed, and they go through life thinking they made a contribution.

“It’s easy to be moved by the tragedy,” Lee said. “You just watch the news. But you shouldn’t lower your defenses and submit to a knee-jerk reaction.”

Along these lines, you should avoid opening attachments that claim to be photos of the crisis spots. These mails may contain images but will also include — you guessed it — a big fat virus.

Lee’s solution for making sure your money counts is simple. Give to “brand name” charities like the Red Cross or Oxfam, which have a reputation of accountability. And open the browser to these sites directly, rather than following an e-mail link.

Once on the site, follow the instructions on how to send donations. This will ensure that the funds actually reach the intended recipient and that these charities will be able to do the greatest good.

This is a good idea, but I have a better one. If you want to give to tsunami relief and have selected an appropriate charity, get out of your chair and mail them a check. We don’t always have to use technology to do everything.

And in this case, the remote possibility that it will get lost in the mail is dwarfed by all of the creepier alternatives.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.