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Japan tsunami: Here's how you can help

Nations are responding to the devastation in Japan, sending aid workers, rescue equipment, and humanitarian supplies. Individuals can help too by donating to legitimate charities.

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Meanwhile, there are many ways for individuals and families to help, although officials caution against the possibility of charity scammers of the type that proliferated after Hurricane Katrina.

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“If you decide to donate money to the Japanese tsunami relief effort, you would want your money to go where it can do the most good to help victims and their families,” said Washington State Secretary of State Sam Reed. “So we encourage you to check before you give by doing your homework on the charities asking for your money. We don’t want scammers to benefit from this tragedy.”

On his website blog, Mr. Reed says to make sure you ask these questions before sending a check or giving out your credit card number over the phone or online:

• Is the charity or fundraiser registered with the state?
• What is the name, address, and telephone number of the organization asking for the donation?
• Exactly how will the donation be used?
• What percentage of the contribution will actually be spent on the charitable purpose of the organization?

Many familiar and longstanding charities are taking donations via websites and text messages. Some examples:

Text "redcross" to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the American Red Cross. Text "japan" or "quake" to 80888 to donate $10 to the Salvation Army. Text “4japan” to 20222 to send a $10 donation to the humanitarian group World Vision. The charges will appear on your cell phone bill.

Most major groups post updates about their activities on website blogs as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Texting “corps” to 30644 will bring Mercy Corps updates in response.

For a list of charitable organizations, check out InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs. The Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator are good ways to check out charities as well.

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