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Thieves, thugs target disaster areas
By Sun Shan (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-06 22:47

Thieves, cheats and thugs have soon followed in the footsteps of those trying to help in areas stricken by one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

In Nagapattinam, the worst-hit district in southern India's Tamil Nadu state, gangsters are ruling the roost in many of the affected villages, victims have told the Indian Express newspaper, turning relief materials into money-spinners or diverting relief trucks to those they favour or to people who will pay them.

On Monday, outside a transit shelter in Velankanni town, as a relief truck drove in and the victims rushed for the food, a group of men elbowed the needy out of the way in favour of those who paid them, the newspaper said.

Cheats have been promising illiterate villagers relief for fees or pretending to be doctors and charging for medical attention.

In Thailand, thieves disguised as police and rescue workers have looted luggage and hotel safes around Khao Lak beach, where up to 3,000 people were killed, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Adding a ghoulish note to the tragedy, bodies of tsunami victims in Sri Lanka have been stolen from hospitals and sold to distraught relatives while fingers and ears of corpses have been chopped off to steal jewellery, AFP reported, quoting local media.

It isn't just the tsunami-affected areas that have been targeted.

In Sweden, where 52 have been confirmed dead and more than 2,500 missing, police have had to keep 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.

Similar incidents of looting were reported a decade ago after 551 Swedes were killed in the sinking of the ship Estonia.

In neighbouring Norway, police are keeping a watch on criminals tying to obtain new identities by claiming to be tsunami victims or committing insurance fraud.

Even cyberspace has not been spared.

In Canada, a student was accused of trying to cash in on the disaster by offering the domain name tsunamirelief.com -- which was donated to him by a freelance journalist -- for US$50,000 on the online auction site eBay.

The New York Post dubbed the 20-year-old art student a "wave rat" and suggested he was trying to profit from the disaster.

His mother, however, said he was trying to sell the domain name and donate money to relief. The site was later voluntarily removed, eBay said.

In Hong Kong, whose residents per capita are among the world's biggest individual aid donors, the charity Oxfam warned of a bogus fund-raising email circulating in its name, asking people to send donations to a bank account in Cyprus. Local authorities have warned residents to beware of online appeals.

One man pleaded guilty in a British court for sending hoax emails to people who had made appeals for information about relatives and friends on a television website.

In China's mainland, some people received short messages on their mobile phones, asking them to donate money to a supposed Red Cross bank account for victims, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.

The account was a private one that had nothing to do with the Red Cross, according to the report.

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