May 4, 2015 By Shane Schick 2 min read

The devastating earthquake in Nepal has captured the world’s attention and its sympathy, but it has also spurred on hackers who are reportedly carrying out Nepal earthquake email scams.

An advisory from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) said that users should beware of unsolicited messages asking for charitable donations to help victims of the disaster, which TIME magazine predicted may end up claiming more than 15,000 lives. Authorities suggested the Nepal earthquake email scams could unleash malicious software by directing users to phishing sites, leading to data theft and possibly worse.

US-CERT wasn’t the only organization issuing such warnings. A posting from the Better Business Bureau provided a long list of legitimate organizations through which potential donors could provide assistance. The best way to avoid possible scams is to avoid any email links and go directly to the charity’s website, the release said.

Some of the most in-depth analysis of the Nepal earthquake email scams so far came from ITProPortal, which showed a screenshot of a sample message and offered insights from security researchers. While some of the messages are really just using the newsworthiness of the disaster to improve open and click-through rates, there is evidence of some virus activity that involved keylogging. That campaign may have been somewhat faulty and short-lived, but it might not end up being the only one.

As The Hill pointed out, these kinds of phishing schemes are particularly effective because they play off the high emotions that occur during catastrophic events. Cybercriminals have learned it pays to catch consumers when their guard might be down. In fact, the email scams recall similar activity tied into the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013.

While it’s always sad when hackers exploit such tragedies, there is also some heartening evidence of technology being used as a force for good amid the current disaster. According to Re/code, the recently launched check-in feature from Facebook has allowed more than 7 million people to notify friends and family that they’re safe. If the Nepal earthquake email scams continue, social media services like Facebook may win out over more traditional means of electronic communication to provide the status updates that really count.

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