Want To Help Quake-hit Japan? Be Careful Where You Send Your Money

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Natural disasters set off a wave of charitable giving from all over the world: but just as inevitably, they bring out all manner of fraudsters looking to cash in on global sympathy.

How do you tell if the charity soliciting your dollars for Japan is on the level? The FBI has a timely press release with useful ways to avoid dodgy schemes:

Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including:

* Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages because they may contain computer viruses.
* Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
* Beware of organizations with copy-cat 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 by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status.
* Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
* To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
* Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.
* Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may 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.
* Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services. Most legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.”

If you encounter a scheme that smells suspicious, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, (866) 720-5721. E-mails can be sent to disaster@leo.gov.

Suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites should be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, http://www.ic3.gov.

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