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Avoiding Disaster Relief Credit Card Scams: Six Tips for Safe Giving

by Barbara Marquand

Less than 24 hours after the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, the FBI was warning U.S. residents to beware of scammers out to profit from the tragedy. Almost like clockwork after disasters, phony charities and Web sites are launched, promising to help victims while setting out to steal money and credit card numbers.

That doesn't mean you have to close your heart and wallet. Just make sure your donations get to the people who deserve them. Follow these six tips for wise giving:

Credit Card Tips for Giving

1. Research the charity. Check with the Better Business Bureau, which sets standards for charity accountability, and the American Institute of Philanthropy, a watchdog organization that rates charities. Never give to an unfamiliar charity until you've done some research, and make sure you have the exact name. Sometimes scammers use names that sound similar to well-known charities. The American Institute of Philanthropy suggests requesting written information, including a list of the board of directors, a mission statement, and an annual report. Reputable charities are happy to provide information.

2. Don't give out your credit card number over the phone to someone claiming to be from a charity, no matter how passionate the pitch. Reputable charities do not pressure you to give on the spot.

3. Don't respond to e-mail spam solicitations, even if they appear to be from legitimate organizations. Go directly to the organizations' Web sites instead. A Web link in an e-mail could be a scammer's site, set up to steal your money via your credit cards.

Use Credit Cards Only on Secure Sites

4. Donate only on charity sites that use encryption technology, which scrambles your personal credit card information before transmitting it. Look for signs that the site is secure, such as an "s" after the "http" preceding the address, and a padlock or key symbol at the bottom of the Web page.

5. Give directly to organizations, rather than groups promising to donate on your behalf or to individuals. Sometimes scammers posing as charity representatives, government officials, or surviving victims solicit donations through e-mail or social networking sites.

6. If you think you might have been taken by a phony charity, report the incident to law enforcement. Call your credit card companies, and get free copies of your credit reports if you think information from your credit cards got into the wrong hands.

 

Published 05/27/11 (Modified 11/20/13)


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