It was just after 1am on February 27th 2008. I was still up and at my computer when I heard what sounded like a loud crash. My first thought was that my noisy downstairs neighbours were playing silly buggers again, but then everything started to shake. The earthquake – for that was indeed what it was – only lasted a few seconds, but it was strong enough to make its impact felt in large parts of the UK.
At a magnitude of 5.2, the earthquake I and many others felt that night, although deeply disconcerting, was absolutely nothing compared to the massive quakes experienced in recent months and years by countries as diverse as Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, and now Japan (in fact, some of the many and continuing aftershocks that have resulted from Friday’s terrible Japanese quake have been significantly more powerful than that).
As a demonstration of the enormous and unstoppable power of nature, the sheer destructive force of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday was truly awesome (in the original sense of that word) – and, scientifically, as it reached a magnitude of 9.0, it was also one of the most powerful recorded quakes of the last 100 years or so.
The results of this powerful earthquake have been devastating, even in a country as well-prepared for and as used to earthquakes as Japan. Many settlements on the affected coastline have been swept away by tsunami waves up to ten metres high, and a number of the country’s network of nuclear power stations have been seriously (possibly catastrophically) damaged by the quake.
The death toll is rising with every hour, and may hit ten thousand in Japan alone. Little is known about the current status of the many low-lying Pacific islands which were also in the path of the tsunami. People, families, lives have been torn apart and destroyed; homes and communities ripped to pieces by the vagaries of nature. Like many countries so damaged by natural disasters, Japan needs the help of the rest of the world to recover.
However, it’s a sad fact of modern life that horrendous disasters like this also bring the low-life scammers out of the internet woodwork. No one can fail to be moved by the images such as those of the small Japanese towns absolutely torn apart by the power of the tsunami – but, sadly, there are also those who seek to exploit our basic compassionate instinct at times like these, particularly when they know they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet.
Internet security website Sophos reported on one such attempt to scam people wanting to donate to the aid effort after last year’s devastating quake in Haiti, and at least three deeply distasteful and insensitive Facebook clickjacking scams relating to the Japanese disaster have already cropped up.
Not only are these scams exploitative of those suffering, but they also open up a huge can of worms for those who click on these links or respond to these emails – there are still many internet users who haven’t grasped that these scams are designed to compromise their privacy and the security of their computer (and those of others).
The very fact that these scams are already spreading shows that there are people out there who have easily been suckered in – the scammers don’t seem to have to work very hard to make money when there are people who let their hearts rule their heads and will click on anything. And these scams will continue as long as there are people whose moral compass allows them to think it’s acceptable to exploit other people’s misery to make money…
But don’t let these scammers, those sorry excuses for human beings, put you off donating. Just be aware. Listen to your head and your heart. Check first – if a link doesn’t seem right, look it up on one of the many websites which exist to expose such scams (I mostly use Sophos and Snopes but there are others). Instead of clicking on dodgy links, seek out the actual websites of reputable charities and aid agencies (see below for some non-dodgy links) and make your donation there:
NB: I’ll try to update with details of any further appeals if at all possible.
Other useful information:
FCO Japan travel advice (for Brits planning to travel to or already in Japan)
Helpful websites, phone numbers (information for those in Japan)
Olive (earthquake survival wiki in several languages, including Japanese)
UPDATE (15/03/11): Sophos are reporting another scam, this one an email soliciting donations that purports to come from the British Red Cross. Find out more and get some excellent advice about staying safe online in circumstances like these here.
The BBC are also reporting that a fake text/email about the nuclear situation is circulating in Asia.