Disaster Spawns Scams

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti scammers are working diligently to detour some of the charitable outpouring into their own pockets.

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Americans are once again opening their hearts and wallets to help in the relief effort. At the same time, scammers are working diligently to detour some of those donations into their own pockets. According to legitimate charity fund raisers, disasters like the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina are spawning ground for bogus schemes and it can be hard for the unwary to separate the charities from the charlatans.

To make sure the money you give actually goes to provide relief to the disaster-stricken, say charity consultants, you should follow a few simple rules. The simplest is to stick with well-known charities, like the American Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. Be leery of any requests from a charity you’ve never heard of or have never given to before. Don’t respond to unsolicited telephone solicitations and don’t give personal information, like a credit card number, to a caller. Phony e-mails are another favorite tool of the scammers - ignore them unless they are from a group you have given to in the past. There are also a number of Web sites where you can check on charities, such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Guidestar.

Other tips: Never give cash; write a check made out to the charity, never to an individual. Also, if you use a credit card, you should be aware that about 3% of your donation will go to the credit card company in processing fees. Some companies, however, like Capitol One and American Express, have announced that they would either waive processing fees or rebate them back to the charity.