7 Safe and Smart Ways to Avoid Scams and Donate Money to Japan

Mitch Lipka, dealnews columnist

The devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has people around the world digging in to their pockets to offer what help they can to those whose lives have been torn apart.

When there is disaster and people open their hearts — and wallets — scams are sure to follow. Whether it is hurricanes in the South, the gulf oil spill or the earthquake in Haiti, the scammers lied in wait.

So, here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help your generosity find the cause you are seeking and not some greedy scammer looking to take advantage:

  • Be wary of people or groups making urgent appeals for money whether in person, by phone mail, email, websites or social networking
  • If a telemarketer calls, ask the name of the charity if it's not provided right away and then ask what percentage of your donation will go to the charity.
  • Follow-up on that, if you're still interested, by verifying the charity authorized that solicitation.
  • Don't feel pressured to give out your credit card or bank account numbers; wait until you've decided that the charity is legitimate and you're comfortable.
  • Be sure to get a receipt and record that your donation is tax deductible.
  • Don't give cash and don't write a check in the name of the solicitor rather than the charity.
  • For those who want to leverage their contributions to a legitimate organization, look to double your money with matching donations. dealnews, for one, will match contributions to the American Red Cross up to a total of $25,000. Click here for more information.

You can learn more about helping victims in Japan from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Click here for more information.

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. There's even a new video there to explain how to file a complaint. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Mitch Lipka is an investigative journalist for consumer issues who formerly wrote for WalletPop.com, Consumer Reports, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, among other places. Follow him on Twitter — @mitchlipka. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Photo Credit: David Berkowitz via Flickr.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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