Preying on disaster

Pittsburg: A man was charged Thursday with soliciting donations for tsunami relief by sending 800,000 phony e-mails purporting to be from a nationally known aid organization, federal prosecutors said.

Matthew Schmieder, 24, was arrested at his home Thursday, just days after several states and consumer watchdog agencies warned about such scams. He said he planned to use any money he got to repair his car and pay bills.

Schmieder was released on $25,000 bail by a federal magistrate. According to the criminal complaint, Schmieder sent e-mails that contained three images that linked to or referenced Mercy Corps’ server in Oregon and a link for donations to be sent to a PayPal account.

Officials with PayPal said the account contained $150, but it was not immediately clear where that money came from. Schmieder said he had sent the e-mail to 8,00,000 Internet addresses and had begun to receive donations.

Investigators found Schmieder by figuring out who copied the same images from the group’s Web site that were found on the e-mail, according to the complaint. — USA Today