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Scam Artist/Grifter Pulls Tsunami Con

Connecticut- A woman who donated a coveted Web site address to what she thought was a fund-raising organization for tsumani victims claims she was scammed by a college student who tried to sell the domain for $50,000.

Michelle Tirado, of Southbury, Conn., said she was shocked to see the domain for sale on eBay – after she gave it away, thinking it would be used to raise money for victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that killed nearly 150,000 in Southeast Asia last week.

“I’m just shocked,” said Tirado, 38, a free-lance journalist. “This is not right. I would never have given that to him if I knew in advance he was going to sell it.”

As charity coffers worldwide begin to fill with billions of dollars in the wake of the catastrophe, relief-agency and law-enforcement officials said ghouls and scam artists are wasting no time cashing in on the calamity.

Officials said they have not busted anyone yet for relief-fund fraud, but expressed doubts about the growing number of Internet sites and individual fund-raisers allegedly raising money for victims.

Tirado admits she registered the name with the idea of turning a profit herself – until the death toll began to climb.

But even before she had a change of heart, her asking price was only $99. Tirado said she donated the site to Canadian college student Josh Kaplan.

Kaplan allegedly tracked down Tirado, claiming to represent “Tsunami Relief International,” and said it was a nonprofit – even though no such nonprofit exists. He told her he and other designers would create a Web site to collect donations.

“Of course, I am doing this for nonprofit, so I won’t be able to pay you for the site,” Kaplan wrote in the e-mail obtained by The Post. “It would be an extremely generous donation to the cause if you do decide to donate it.”

Tirado transferred the domain name to him, but instead of seeing him solicit funds with the site, she was shocked that he put it up for sale on eBay – with a starting bid of a staggering $50,000.

Kaplan, 20, said he’s studying design and lives at home with his parents. He claims he was planning to donate the proceeds to charity, but admitted he didn’t share with Tirado his plans to sell the site.

He immediately pulled the auction from eBay after being contacted by The Post. An eBay spokesman could not be reached for comment.

“There’s no potential scam involved,” Kaplan said before yanking the item. “I’m auctioning it to raise money for relief.”

At least two other tsunami-related domain names were for sale on eBay. The highest starting bid was $99.

Hundreds of thousands of people have donated money online, and relief agencies are warning potential donors to be wary of emotional appeals and to avoid requests from telemarketers and e-mails.

Reputable Web sites should also include phone numbers for donors to get information on the charities.

“The best thing is to go to trusted organizations,” said Leslie Gottlieb, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Greater New York.



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