Avoid charity scams: Consumer Websites of the Week

March 16, 2011|By Liz F. Kay

Now more than ever, it's important to guard against criminals who may want to take advantage of your desire to help the victims of the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant explosion.

The Maryland Attorney General's office offered these tips for avoiding a scam, including our Consumer Website of the Week: the Maryland Charities Database.

In Maryland, charities and fundraisers are supposed to register with the Secretary of State. If an organization hasn't, it could be a warning sign. You can also call the Secretary of State's charitable organization's division at 1-800-825-4510.

Be wary of e-mailed links to charitable sites that you recognize --- scammers often use phishing techniques to lure you into clicking on links that take you to fake websites. Instead, if you want to donate to a specific organization, navigate there yourself by searching for their name in Google.

Credit card or check donations have more protections than ones made in cash, but never give your credit card or bank account info willy-nilly to anyone who calls you. Nor should you make out your checks to anyone other than the organization itself.

More tips are available through the AG's office tipsheet on charitable giving.

Before you choose an organization, check out how much they spend on their actual programming as opposed to fundraising or administrative cost by searching on another Consumer Website of the Week: Charity Navigator. Not every nonprofit is listed, however, so you could also call the group yourself and ask them directly about their spending.

In other news, if you're worried about friends or relatives affected by these events, this Gadling post lists phone companies (including mobile, landline and VoIP) offering free calls and text messages to Japan.

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