Thursday, March 17, 2011

Donating to Japan relief efforts? Screen carefully

 In the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan, people around the world and in Connecticut are opening up their hearts and wallets to help those who survived the devastation.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection is urging residents around the state to diligently and carefully check out charities before making a monetary donation toward relief efforts.

“The devastation is overwhelming and the losses, both personal and economic, move us to donate quickly and generously,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said. “But because scam artists are adept at exploiting disaster for personal gain, I urge you donate carefully, so that your kindness and generosity are not exploited.”

 Rubenstein suggested taking the following steps:

Donate to well-known, established charities.
This is the best way to ensure that your donation is used appropriately. Establishing an effective, efficient new charity following a crisis is nearly impossible. Find a charity with a proven track record in providing disaster relief on a massive scale, one that has worked in Japan and other affected regions.
One source for checking out the details about a charity that you are considering is

Specify that your donation is for this crisis in Japan.
Do not send supplies unless a charity specifically requests them. Otherwise, there may be no system to receive, organize and distribute your donation.
Avoid responding to e-mail and telephone solicitations on behalf of supposed victims.
Unless you personally know someone in Japan, anyone contacting you in this way is most likely part of a scam.

Delete unsolicited e-mails and don’t open attachments.
Never respond to unsolicited emails and don’t open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from Japan. The attachments may be viruses designed to steal personal financial information from your computer.

Beware of copycat organizations.
Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identities and donations of generous, unsuspecting individuals. When giving online, be sure to find the charity’s legitimate website. Again, you can access links to each bona fide charity’s sites from the Charity Navigator site referenced above.

Remember: social media sites also require caution and scrutiny – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs about the disaster include emotional pleas for donations. Do not blindly give via these vehicles. As with any charity, investigate the groups behind such pleas to ensure that they come from a legitimate organization.

“The outpouring of concern and support for those affected by this tragedy is enormous, but unfortunately, so is the potential for fraud,” Rubenstein said. “We all must take precautions to ensure that the generosity of Connecticut residents is not abused."

Suspicious solicitations can be reported to your local police department and to the state Department of Consumer Protection at 1-800-842-2649.

"Anyone caught engaging in fraudulent activity will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Rubenstein said.

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