Long Beach, Koh Lanta Island, Thailand, 27 December 2004Anxious relatives searching for news of family and friends missing in Asia after the tsunami disaster have been targeted by spoof emails after posting their contact details online.

On Monday a 40-year-old man pleaded guilty to sending 35 emails through the Sky News website. Christopher Pierson sent messages saying that 'the UK Government regretted to inform the victim that the missing person they were inquiring about was confirmed dead'.

Mr Pierson is due to be sentenced at the end of January. The government has stated that relatives would not be informed of any death by email, although not all those emailed by Mr Pierson have been tracked down.

A spokesperson for Sky said it had been 'disgusted' by Mr Pierson's actions, and added that many people had successfully found relatives through the site.

As well as messageboards for missing people and survivors, Sky is listing all known British victims.

Sky News Online claimed to be the first site to use its ticker device to ask tourists to send in messages if they are safe and well. Traffic to the site doubled in the days after the tsunami hit, reaching 7 million page impressions in four days.

The BBC also received tens of thousands of requests from people trying to locate friends and relatives in Asia. Dutchman Rob Delissen praised the BBC and the internet after finding his family who all survived when the tsunami hit their resort in Thailand.

Sky News has been mentioned in one of many hoax emails calling for donations to the tsunami appeal fund. A list of genuine appeals by registered charities and relief organisations has been published on the BBC site.

More coverage:
BBC News Online
Guardian Unlimited
Sky News Online
Reuters UK

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