Cashing in on tragedy: How not be scammed when donating to Haitian relief efforts

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Less than 24 hours after an earthquake devastated Haiti, scammers were trying to profit from the tragedy with everything from emails and web sites asking for donations to phone call solicitations.

"Whenever there is a natural disaster, there are two things you can count on", the Christian Science Monitor quoted Art Taylor, president of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, as saying. "The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run, and in some case fraudulent, charities."

Since the earthquake rocked Haiti, hundreds of Internet addresses pertaining to Haiti have popped up. USA Today reported that a common e-mail scam is one that supposes to be from the British Red Cross and requests a minimum 250 British pounds to be wired via Western Union. But the problem is - the organization doesn't collect donations through Western Union.

The FBI is asking people to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to solicitations for aid. The FBI and the Better Business Bureau have issued five helpful tips to ensure your donation helps the Haitian people.

  • Donate to well-known charities with good reputations.
  • Use caution when donating online and remember that most non-profit organizations have websites ending in .org, not .com. Ignore unsolicited e-mail messages and don't click on any links or open attachments from people or organizations you don't know.
  • Do not give money to individuals -- donate to reputable organizations only.
  • Investigate the charity to which you are considering donating and ask how the funds will be used and ask other relevant questions, such as if they have staff in Haiti.
  • Give money, not food, clothing, or equipment - let the experts determine how to use the cash to help the people of Haiti as quickly and effectively as possible.

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