WASHINGTON -- The images were of death and destruction, but the scam artists saw something else: an opportunity to swindle those willing to give after the terrorist attacks.
One appeal sought money for computer experts who supposedly are trying to track Osama bin Laden, the man believed responsible for the deadly assaults, consumer advocates say.
People also have tried to pass themselves off as being from Reader's Digest and Publishers Clearing House in their attempts to capitalize on the nation's grief over the disaster.
"These are the kind of people that don't lose sleep at night. They have no consciences to be bothered," said Susan Grant of the National Consumers League. "They see the news and their thought is not, 'Oh, how horrible.' Their thought is 'How can we use this?"'
But the Federal Trade Commission, which investigates complaints of consumer fraud, says it has found no evidence of scheming since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's not to say that it isn't happening somewhere," said Eileen Harrington, the FTC's director of marketing practices. "No one is complaining (to us) about it."
Harrington said people shouldn't let reports about phony disaster-related appeals keep them from donating. "The important thing is to give wisely, but to give," she said.
And Americans are giving -- $75 million alone online as of Friday, according to an update at www.libertyunites.org, created by the Internet industry to encourage giving.
Many of the appeals out there are real, officials say. But they caution the public to be smart about giving and look closely at solicitations that mention the disaster.
Better yet, people shouldn't wait to be asked to contribute, but should do so on their own.
An e-mail message making its way around appeals for money to support the computer experts who supposedly are hot on bin Laden's trail. The message includes a bank account number for donations to be wired and appears to have come from Estonia, Grant said.
A caller claiming to be from Reader's Digest told a woman she hadn't gotten her prize because of disrupted mail service but that delivery could be expedited if she wired $2,500, Grant said.
Publishers Clearing House put an "alert" on its Web site to warn consumers, some of whom were called and told that donations will be made to the disaster relief effort if they buy magazine subscriptions with their sweepstakes entries.
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