Five tips to avoid Haiti relief scams

The aftermath of natural disasters often bring out the scammers and con artists. Here are five tips to avoid Haiti relief scams and make sure your donations make a difference.

By , Correspondent

Within 24 hours of the Haitian earthquake, scammers were at work trying to profit from the disaster. The scams ranged from e-mails asking donors for help to phone calls soliciting funds to phony relief websites harvesting credit card numbers.

Whenever there is a natural disaster, there are two things you can count on, says Art Taylor, president of the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, a nonprofit consumer group. "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 cases fraudulent, charities," he says in a statement on the group’s Website.

More than 400 Internet addresses related to Haiti have been registered since Monday's devastating quake, Internet security expert Joel Esler told ABC News. Some of those websites may be legitimate, but many others are fraudulent.

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“Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance,” Taylor says.

Here are five tips, culled from information from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Better Business Bureau, to ensure your donation reaches its destination:

Stick to well-known, reputable charities. The American Institute of Philanthropy recently published their list of top Haiti relief organizations, and Charity Navigator evaluates charities with a four-star rating system. The BBB also accredits charities based on fund-raising practices and how the charities spend the funds.

Be cautious when donating online. Scammers can put up a website and open a PayPal account overnight, so be wary of donating on sites you don’t recognize. Also remember that most nonprofit groups' Websites end in .org rather than .com. Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mails, and don’t click links or open attachments from people you don’t know since they may contain computer viruses.

Donate to organizations, not individuals. Be skeptical of individuals who approach you – in person, on phone, or via e-mail – asking for money. Some may pose as an official or represent a charity.

Check the charity out. Find out if it has on-the-ground presence in Haiti, and ask how your funds will be used. If a charity doesn’t already have staff in Haiti, it may find it difficult or take a long time to provide immediate assistance.

Give money, not food, clothing, or equipment. Although well intentioned, donations of food and clothing are inefficient ways to help victims quickly, when transportation and distribution are taken into account. Give money and let the experts determine how best to use it.

Finally, if you think you’ve been scammed, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (if the scam was online) or with the National Fraud Information Center if the scam was over the phone or online.

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