If you're looking to help Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, here are 10 tips to help you make sure your money is going where it's intended, and advice to avoid falling victim to scammers, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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Yes, it's a sad commentary on modern society. But fraudsters find vulnerable prey amid disasters, and are suspected of targeting those who want to help Japan.
"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.
Before you write that check to help Japan, you should be wary of giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations, whether by email, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings or telephone calls.
The FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud make the following recommendations to those looking to help Japan:
- Don't respond to any unsolicited email asking you to help Japan or click on links contained within those messages. They may contain computer viruses.
- Be skeptical of people representing themselves as members of charitable organizations trying to help Japan or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
- Beware of organizations with names similar to, but not exactly the same, as those of reputable charities.
- Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations asking you to help Japan by checking out their nonprofit status on the IRS website, among others.
- Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Open attachments only from people you know.
- To make sure your contributions to help Japan are being used for their intended purposes, write checks directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
- Do not be pressured into making contributions to help Japan; reputable charities do not use such tactics.
- Be aware of who you're dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Giving your information to the wrong people can compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
- Remember: Legitimate charities do not typically ask for donations through money transfer services. Keep in mind that most legitimate charities have websites that end in .org rather than .com.
If you suspect you've come across a scammer trying to dupe those looking to help Japan, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721. The toll-free hotline is staffed by an operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. The agency's fax number is (225) 334-4707.