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Disaster in Japan: Charity scam warning

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Bogus charities may be popping up after Japanese disastersWith heartbreaking images of the recent devastation in Japan—villages reduced to rubble and submerged under water, city streets leveled, and survivors searching for missing loved ones—many consumers around the world are reaching for their wallets to help. Advocates are warning that con artists have long exploited natural disasters, and the Sendai earthquake and tsunami will likely be no exception.

Over the years, opportunistic con artists have exploited both natural disasters and terrorist attacks to bilk generous consumers attempting to make financial contributions to rescue efforts, warns the National Consumers League. The recent devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Japan will likely be no exception.

In the days following a natural disaster, NCL's Fraud Center (www.fraud.org) often hears from consumers about crooks’ attempts to take advantage of tragic events for their personal gain. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, as well as after Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, NCL’s Fraud Center received reports of a variety of scams tailored by con artists to capitalize on the rescue efforts. Scams typically involve con artists sending out emails purporting to come from a known and respected charity such as the Red Cross or Oxfam International. Victims are then directed to a fake Web site made to look like a legitimate charity's site, where they are asked to hand over personal information or to donate via wire transfer, PayPal, or a credit or bank account. The scammer then makes off with the donation, and no funds are sent to support actual disaster relief.

“The continued tragedy of fraud perpetrated in the wake of such disasters is that charity scams not only rob the donors,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “They divert contributions from legitimate charities, who are in great need for money and goods to assist those who need it most."

NCL warns consumers to be especially wary of emails from strangers. While many legitimate companies, organizations, and individuals are using the Internet to mobilize help for disaster victims and share information about the latest developments, crooks may use email or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to reach a wide audience of potential victims.

Be cautious about any solicitation that mentions the disaster. Give only to charities you know and trust. If you want to support disaster relief efforts, you should contact respected charities directly to make a contribution - don't respond to requests for aid.

What to watch for:

Be wary of clicking on links or on attached files labeled photos or video in emails from senders claiming to represent charities because they may contain viruses.

Consumers can confirm that charities are properly registered by contacting their state charities regulators, which are listed in the state government pages of their telephone books. Information about charities is also available from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, 703-276-0100, www.give.org.Consumers can also check out charities at GuideStar (http://www.guidestar.org/), and Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/), both of which contain links to legitimate charities working on the relief effort.

Consumers can report disaster-related telemarketing or Internet fraud to NCL’s Fraud Center via the online complaint form on www.fraud.org.