Tips to avoid charitable contribution scams: Japan’s earthquake and tsunami

Natural and unnatural disasters bring out the best, and unfortunately sometimes the worst in people.   While trying to donate funds to help with the horrible others in times of tragedy many despicable scams, may pop into your email box and more attempting to take advantage of your generosity and support.  Before you make your donation to any organization to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that recently struck Japan be aware of these tips to make sure your money goes where you intend for it to.

You may get approached by a number of organizations through many different channels.  You may get phone calls, emails, or letters. You may even come across fake websites. But no matter how you are approached it is important to do the research before writing that check, and the FBI warns, always write a check; never donate cash.

Ignore unsolicited emails requesting donations, or better yet report them to the organization that they appear to be from.

Do not click on links provided in these email messages, they can (and often do) contain malware and viruses.  This includes pictures, images and attachments.

Should you see a link, either on your social networking page or elsewhere that seems of interest to you, copy paste the URL into your browser instead of clicking on the link.

To ensure that your money will be going exactly where you intended for it to go contribute directly to known organizations instead of giving the money to an individual, additionally, when you write a check make it out to the organization not an individual.

Know exactly who and what organization you are providing your information to when making a charitable contribution.  Remember that information can also leave you at risk for identity theft and credit card fraud.

Remember legitimate charities do not solicit contributions using wire transfer services and when visiting their website look for .org instead of the other more popular .dom.

Lookout for charities that have names similar too other well-known charitable organizations, they may be using the name you recognize to confuse and con potential donors.

Find out about the charity that you wish to donate to by visiting Charity Navigator.com.  This website provides information on most charities including how they spend the money they receive as well as provide you with information on contacting that organization directly.

The BBB and state attorney general for California add these words of caution:

Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs.

Obtain written information about the charity, such as its latest annual report and financial statements, either directly from the charity or using a tool like Charity Navigator.

Find out what the charity intends to do with the funds, including any excess funds that have been directed to the disaster relief.

Make sure the charity is registered in the attorney general’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee that a charity is effective, but it’s an important indicator. A searchable database is available at www.ag.ca.gov/charities.php for the California area.  Other state attorney generals will have their own website.

“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit these tragedies for their own gain by sending fraudulent emails and creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” the FBI warned after the March 2011 earthquakes and tsunami that struck Japan.

If you have been a victim of a fake charitable contribution scam the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) have created a tip line to receive information from the public about suspected fraud associated with the earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan.   Report directly to the NCDF at (866) 720-5721 (it works I tried it). The line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emails can be sent to disaster@leo.gov, and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707. The NCDF was created by the Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute, and deter swindlers and thieves in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Consumers can also report suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov.