Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

Boston Marathon profiteers

Decent human beings, watching the tragic images from the bombings in Boston this week, reacted with sadness and concern for the victims. But others viewed the same images and immediately thought, “I should register a domain name connected to the tragedy.”

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Not long after the horrific blasts at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured at least 176 – minutes later, actually – people began to register Web site domain names related to the bombings. The swiftness of their action makes many wonder if they just want to profit legally from the tragedy or to create fake charity sites to solicit fraudulent donations.

Michael Berkens, editor of TheDomains, an online source of domain information, started tracking the domain name registrations. At least 125 domain names related to the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday were registered, he reports.

More than 20 look like they “could be used for fundraising efforts for the victims,” Berkens wrote.

“While we don’t know every registrant’s intention, we do know historically that many of the domain names registered immediately after were done to get traffic and make money parking domains or worse.”

Berkens has posted the domain names, including some he question. Check out the list.

Natural disasters and tragedies like what we saw in Boston breed charity scams, identity theft schemes and attempts to infect computers with malware, often with a link promising “exclusive” news or video of the incident, reports CNNMoney.

As CNN reported, “one fraudster set up a Twitter account minutes after the bombing that claimed to be associated with the Boston Marathon organization. The @_BostonMarathon account promised to donate $1 for every retweet. After users called it out as a fake, Twitter quickly shut the account down -- but not before it received more than 50,000 retweets.”

“Tragedies inspire people to give,” H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, said in a blog by Kelsey Owen, communications and marketing coordinator for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

But, as Taylor said, “tragedies – whether natural disasters or man-made catastrophes – also inspire scammers to take advantage of that generosity.”

If you want to help the victims of the Boston Marathon, check out a group or Web site before you give. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance says you should not assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted. Check out more tips on safe donations from the Alliance here.

Financial Fraud

AARP and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) is offering a free, online interactive discussion on Tuesday, April 23, at 2 p.m. Experts will be available to answer your questions about protecting your retirement savings. There will also be tips on spotting the common warning signs of a scam and on checking out your financial professional. You can submit a question in advance by e-mailing moneywebinars@aarp.org, or ask your questions during the live conversation. Register here.

Let’s Talk Money Today

Every Thursday I answer your money questions live. So join me online at noon ET .

If you’re trying to get out of debt, perhaps I can help. If you’re fighting with your spouse about money, maybe I can offer some suggestions to get you on the same financial page. Or come and share your thoughts about a recent personal finance story or column you read.

Monday Money

I love answering your questions, but I often don’t have enough time to respond to all of them during my online chat.

So, staring on Monday, April 22, I’ll have a new online feature, Michelle’s Mailbag. I’ll be answering the questions I couldn’t get to during the live chat and pulling in questions you send to me thorough e-mail (colorofmoney@washpost.com), Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com).

To check out the mailbag questions starting Monday click here.

Stupid Works at Work

How’s this for a revelation that may change your mind about co-workers you think are idiots.

Researchers have concluded in an article in the Journal of Management Studies that stupidity can increase efficiency, reports CNNMoney.

“When too many clever individuals in an organization raised their hands to suggest alternative courses of action, or to ask disquieting questions about decisions and structures,” work slowed, CNNMoney’s Megan Hustad writes. But, “people content in an atmosphere of functional stupidity came to consensus more easily, and with that consensus came greater roll-up-our-sleeves enthusiasm for concentrating on the job.”

In some cases being smart can get you stuck in a position. For example, a good assistant might not be promoted because her boss can’t function without her, Hustad writes.

Hustad’s take on the research is fascinating. It gives new meaning to “stupid is as stupid does.”

Color of Money Question of the Week

Has there been a time when playing stupid got you ahead on the job? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Stupid Works at Work” in the subject line. Please include your name, city and state.

Social Security Payments Chained Down

Lots of people are concerned that many Americans will be financially harmed if a federal budget is passed with President Obama’s recommendation to change how cost-of-living increases government benefits including Social Security.

As part of this debate, there is a lot of discussion about the index used to determine the cost-of-living adjustments.

There is CPI-W, or the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which is what is now used to calculate benefit increases. The president, however, wants to switch to Chained CPI , which is shorthand for Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

“What’s important in the context of the debate over Obama’s budget is that chained CPI would mean Social Security benefits would increase at a slower rate than they do using the current index,” writes The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan.

The debate about which index to use is one you need to understand because it will affect you. So read Sullivan’s blog, which nicely explains the issue. But if it’s still too technical for you, AARP’s Kim Keister breaks it down even further and even provides estimates of how much less money over time people could collect if the new index is used.

Last week’s Color of Money Question

Last week, I asked folks to share their tax horror stories. I guess people were too scared to share.

But staff members at HLNtv.com pulled together some tax nightmares. Here’s one story from Betsy R., 60, Maryland.

Betsy’s story told to HLN: “More than 20 years ago, I lost 10 years of investments, savings, and tax shelters after my financial planner turned out to be a crook. About 20 of us lost everything and got slammed with tax bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (tax plus interest plus penalties). I was in two class action suits against the IRS on this. We did get the penalties dropped by showing we were defrauded, but we still had to pay the taxes and interest. The guy hadn’t actually made the investments with our money, but had sent us forged deeds, etc. Note: the investors in this case were science researchers, doctors, dentists and other professionals – smart people who were too trusting.”

And what did Betsy learn?

“Verify everything and diversify. We thought we were diversified since the investments were different types, but they were all through the same guy.”

There are several other stories -- and what lessons were learned -- that you should check out.

Extension Offered to Residents in Suffolk County,Mass.

By the way, the IRS has announced a three-month tax filing and payment extension to Boston area taxpayers and others affected by Monday’s explosions. The agency said the extension applies to all individual taxpayers who live in Suffolk County, Mass., including the city of Boston. It also includes victims, their families, first responders, others affected by this tragedy who live outside Suffolk County and taxpayers whose tax preparers were adversely affected.

No filing and payment penalties will be due as long as returns are filed and payments are made by July 15. However, the IRS says that, by law, interest -- currently at the annual rate of 3 percent compounded daily -- will still apply to any taxes that were not paid by April 15.

The IRS said an automatic extension would be given to Suffolk County residents. But those who live outside Suffolk County must call (866) 562-5227 starting Tuesday, April 23.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and home town; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Follow me on Twitter at @SingletaryM, or connect with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

 
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