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A Taiwanese blogger is under suspicion for conspiring to defraud people by predicting that a natural disaster will hit Taiwan and split the country in two. The self-proclaimed prophet, identifying himself as “Teacher Wang”, has predicted a magnitude-14 earthquake on 11 May and his message has caused panic on the Island. This could be another example of malicious exploitation of the anxiety caused by the high-profiled natural disasters of 2011 – namely Christchurch and Fukushima.
In February, the New Zealand Herald could report the surfacing of several fake emails and websites inciting people to donate money to relief funds. One scam in particular was highly sophisticated, mimicking the Red cross and directing people to a fake website where they could enter their credit card details. Another used the face of a legitimate UK-based charity called Donate4Charity NZ. The fraudulent email asked New Zealanders to accept overseas donations for Christchurch earthquake victims, and to manage a bogus branch of the charity in return for financial compensation.
The same pattern emerged after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami disaster. The security firm Symantec, could by mid-March, report that scammers were appealing for donations to fraudulent charities through a so-called ‘419-style fraud scam’. A “419” scam is a con that tries to persuade its victims to advance funds in hopes of realizing a much larger sum. The name originates from its related section in the Nigerian criminal code. In a company blog post, Samir Patil, a security researcher at Symantec warned: “Within the first few hours of the earthquake and tsunami, Symantec researchers observed more than 50 domains with the names of either ‘Japan tsunami’ or ‘Japan earthquake.’ These domains are either parked, available for sale, or are linked to earthquake sites. Don’t be surprised if you see these domains being used in phishing and spam attacks.”
Virtual criminals were reportedly unusually quick to exploit the disaster. To reporter Gregg Keizer of online magazine Macworld.co.uk, Chet Wisniewski, a security researcher with Sophos explained; “What’s surprising this time is how quickly they picked up on the news. We knew [scams] were coming, but they started appearing in record-breaking time, less than three hours after the earthquake.”
With these instances in mind, the prophecies of the Taiwanese blogger “Teacher Wang” could be another elaborate example of fraudsters, preying on people in the Asia-Pacific region’s fear. Wang advised people to live in containers if they wanted to survive the disaster, but local police are investigating if the blogger is working with a container business to defraud worried citizens. As of May 1, more than 100 cargo containers had been discovered in Nantou county, and were in the process of being fitted with doors, windows and air conditioning, according to the BBC’s correspondent in Taipei.
Despite the fact that Taiwan is in a quake zone, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau has stated to the BBC that there is no basis for the doomsday prediction and that quakes cannot be reliably predicted. A weather bureau spokesman added in the Pretoria News that “Issuing unauthorised forecasts on earthquakes is punishable by a fine of up to Tw$1 million ($35000).” So far, the police have been unable to trace “Teacher Wang” but his message has been deleted from the web.