Beware of Japan relief appeals from phony charities

COAST CITIES — Tragedies often will bring out the best in people as strangers reach out to help others in need. However, disasters also can result in a flurry of con artists without a conscience who will use natural disasters as opportunities to prey upon the emotions of unsuspecting victims. The San Diego Better Business Bureau, or BBB, is warning consumers about phony charities that are expected to turn up the volume on scam appeals following the recent 8.9‑magnitude earthquake and tsunami catastrophe that swept across Japan’s northeastern coast.
The BBB is encouraging consumers to give to established and recognizable disaster-relief organizations or charities. “Use your head as well as your heart,” said Sheryl Bilbrey, San Diego BBB president. Before writing a check, consumers can contact the nonprofit BBB, which provides the largest free service of its kind to San Diego consumers with free consumer protection and pre‑purchase information, including reports on more than 101,000 local companies. Before buying decisions are made, consumers are encouraged to phone the BBB’s free 24‑hour Consumer Helpline at (858) 496‑2131 or (800) 600‑7050, or visit bbb.org, to obtain free information and a list of BBB accredited businesses.
The BBB advises to be wary of charities with unfamiliar names or “sound‑alikes” with names that sound similar to recognizable emergency‑relief organizations. Donors also need to make sure their money goes to competent organizations that are equipped and experienced to carry out relief efforts. Be leery of e-mails and spam messages linked to new online organizations allegedly claiming that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims, while not admitting to fund-raising and administrative costs.
Also, the BBB recommends consumers ask lots of questions, request printed literature on the charity’s programs and finances and send a check in the mail. Do not give cash on‑the‑spot to a “runner” at your front door. Especially, do not give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an e‑mail. Be skeptical of any charity that is reluctant to answer questions about their operations, finances and programs.

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