Criminals prey on tsunami victims across the world
Thieves, rapists, kidnappers and hoaxers are preying on tsunami survivors and families of victims in Asian refugee camps, hospitals and in the home countries of European tourists hit by the wave.
Reports and warnings came in from as far apart as Britain, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Thailand and China on Monday of criminals taking advantage of the chaos to rape survivors in Sri Lanka or plunder the homes of European tourists reported missing.
In stark contrast to a worldwide outpouring of humanitarian aid in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami, whose death toll stood at nearly 145,000 people by Monday, a women's group in Sri Lanka said rapists were attacking homeless survivors.
Save the Children warned that youngsters orphaned by the tsunami were vulnerable to sexual exploitation. "The experience of earlier catastrophes is that children are especially exposed," said its Swedish chief, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
In Thailand thieves disguised as police and rescue workers have looted luggage and hotel safes around Khao Lak beach, where the tsunami killed up to 3,000 people. Sweden sent seven police officers there on Monday to investigate the reported kidnap of a Swedish boy of 12 whose parents were carried off by the wave.
The United Nations also warned of the danger of pirates hindering its relief efforts off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island, which took the brunt of the tsunami.
Sweden is the hardest hit country outside the tsunami region with more than 2,500 missing and 52 confirmed dead. But it kept their names secret after some homes were targeted by thieves.
"It is unfortunately a reality that people who are known to be missing ... have had their homes gone through and partly emptied," State Secretary Lars Danielsson told local radio.
Swedish police could not give details of such break-ins but said similar incidents of looting had occurred after the 1994 sinking of the Estonia, which killed 551 Swedes.
"That is the reason that we are now so careful about distributing the names this time," a police spokeswoman said.
In neighboring Norway police were on the alert for attempts by criminals to get their names on the list of victims to obtain a new identity or commit insurance fraud.
Kjersti Oppen of the National Crime Investigation Service said the list of missing Norwegians was being checked for names with criminal records or large debts. Similar fraud occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
In Britain, which has at least 40 people among the victims, a man admitted to sending hoax emails to friends and relatives of people missing saying their loved ones had been confirmed dead. The hoaxer claimed to have information from the "Foreign Office Bureau" in Thailand.
In Hong Kong, where people are chipping in generously to the relief effort, the charity Oxfam warned of a bogus fundraising email that has been circulating in its name, asking people to send donations to a bank account in Cyprus.