Avoid Donation Scams: Giving Help to Japan

Last week Japan was rocked with one of the worst natural disasters of this century-and it’s not over yet. Besides getting hit with an earthquake beyond anyone’s imagination, and then having a 30 foot tsunami add further destruction, Japan is now faced with nuclear melt-downs. Not only are there feared to be over 10,000 deaths, but the country has been crippled with no power or heat-and it’s snowing there. People are starving and freezing, and we are called to help. Unfortunately there are those out there that try to take advantage and are forming donation scams. The money doesn’t get to the victims in Japan, but in addition, your donation online can actually put you at risk for identity theft, as well as emptying your bank account.

Have you been approached by phone or email to donate to the earthquake victims? The FBI has already found one such scam. According to KPSP Local 2 News, the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud have issued a warning against donation scams as well as creating a tip line to receive information from the public about suspected fraud regarding the disaster in Japan. The FBI website says tips should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, (866) 720-5721. The line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Additionally, e-mails can be sent to [email protected], and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.Email scams may put your computer at risk for viruses. Not only might your donations not actually be going to the people of Japan, but some email scams may have key stroke capturing code to steal your personal information, thus putting your passwords and secure banking information in the hands of the scammers.How can you avoid being scammed and still donate? KPSP Local 2 News put together the following list to help you make sure your donations actually go to the people who need help in Japan. Here are some tips to follow:

1. Make sure you verify the charity is legit: If you’re unsure, you can check them out with the BBB at bbb.org/charity. Stick with names you know-like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

2. Be cautious when giving on-line-Especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim a link to a relief organization. Watch for spelling errors and don’t go to a misdirected website (from a popup window).

3. Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence-Unless the charity already has staff in the area, it may be difficult to get aid workers there. See if the website clearly describes what they can do.

4. Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups-some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations-you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman.”

5. Make checks payable directly to the charity and ask for a written receipt-This will help confirm legitimacy.

6. Make sure admin costs are held to a minimum-Don’t expect 100%, though.


* You can do it via Cell Phone-American Red Cross-text REDCROSS to 90999 and can donate $10; same for Salvation Army-text “Quake” or “Japan to 80888 or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY. Texting donations may be delayed, so consider contacting charity directly.

* You can Donate Miles-American will offer up to 500 bonus miles if you donate $100; you can donate Continental, Delta, or United miles to the Red Cross-they’ll use them to fly relief workers there.

* You can go directly to website-don’t respond to email solicitations.

As with Hurricane Katrina, the disaster in Japan is bringing out both the best and worst in people. Scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of people rushing to help. It is an unfortunate reality that a small percentage of people will follow such a dark path, but with awareness and caution, you can still help the unfortunate in Japan.

What about you? Have you been contacted to donate? Are you looking for ways to help the Japanese? Let us know.

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