Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Relief - OK to Give - But Beware of Scam Artists

Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, was still recovering from a series of devastating hurricanes over the past few years, and had suffered under a long string of vicious dictatorial regimes. The need of humanitarian aid for Haiti was well established even before the January 12, 2010 massive earthquake. Tuesday's 7+ magnitude earthquake in Haiti destroyed much of the capitol city of Port-au-Prince, possibly killing thousands, and leaving in its wake hundreds of thousands without food, water or shelter. Yet the call for aid for the victims has brought the scam artists out in droves!

This most recent tragedy has brought out the spirit of giving around the world as global efforts are quickly being mobilized to set up relief centers, distribute food and water, and search for survivors in the rubble.

However, this call to action and for donations has spawned a wide spread series of scams to solicit funds from unsuspecting donors that will never reach Haiti nor the victims that need help!

The FBI, Attorney Generals of the United States and many individual states, along with Better Business Bureaus are warning people to be very cautious when making donations for Haitian relief. Be most wary of any group that contacts you directly by phone, email, or mail. Also, do not give out personal information when making donations, legitimate charities will accept contributions without asking for things like Social Security numbers, etc.

The U.S. Department of State has identified two organizations that can be trusted:
Of course, the Red Cross is given the seal of approval.
The other is YELE , which was established by the musician and native of Haiti - Wyclef Jean.

The public can go to to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

You can also visit a national clearinghouse of information about charities and their performance.

BBB Foundation offers the following six tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:
1. Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites.
2. Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
3. Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and e-mails that claim to link to a relief organization.
4. Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
5. Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
6. Ask before giving gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
Top 6 tips from Better Business Bureau

The Oregon Attorney General's Office offers these 4 basic tips about charity giving:
1. Do not give out personal information such as credit card or bank account numbers over the phone.
2. Beware of callers who want your money fast.
3. Do not donate cash. Legitimate charities will be pleased to receive a contribution by check.
4. Be sure you are contributing to a legitimate organization registered with your state's Attorney General’s Office.
Top 4 tips from Oregon's attorney general

Scammers, identity thieves and unscrupulous charities pose a significant threat not just to would-be donors for Haitian relief efforts, but for future relief efforts as well.

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