How to Avoid Scam Charities

Do some checking before you donate to Japan victims

By Joel Grover
|  Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011  |  Updated 5:45 AM PDT
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A motorcyclist passes through the rubble in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011, two days after a powerful earthquake-triggered tsunami hit Japan's east coast. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

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Whenever there's a big natural disaster, such as the quake in Japan, scam artists come out of the woodwork, preying on people who want to donate to relief efforts.

So, before you donate, take a few key steps to make sure you're giving to a legitimate charity:

  • Avoid e-mail solicitations for money. The FBI says most e-mail solicitations are scams. Also, don't click on any links or attachments in e-mail appeals, because they could contain a computer virus.
  • Also, avoid any solicitation for help from someone claiming to be a victim, whether by e-mail or direct mail. In many cases they will ask for you to send money directly to them. According to the Better Business Bureau, these direct appeals are usually scams.
  • Before you donate, make sure a charity is legitimate by checking them on several reputable non-profit websites that evaluate and rank charities. These include www.navigator.org, www.givewell.org and www.greatnonprofits.org. These websites also have valuable information for choosing a quality charity.

If you feel that you have encountered what appears to be a fraudulent charity, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, or to the BBB.

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