A.G. Gansler Warns of Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Scams

BALTIMORE (March 15, 2011) — Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is warning Marylanders to be careful and choose legitimate charities when they send money to support Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. In the past, many Americans have been scammed when donating to organizations over the Internet, by phone or through door-to-door solicitations.

“Generous Marylanders should be careful to send their money to charitable organizations that actually help with disaster relief, not unscrupulous scam artists who seek to capitalize on the tragedy of others,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Those wishing to make donations to victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami should confirm the legitimacy of the organization.”

The Attorney General offers the following suggestions to consumers who wish to make donations to victims of the recent natural disasters in Japan:

— Be wary of fake sites resembling those of trusted organizations. For example, the American Red Cross website is www.redcross.org, not www.redcross.com.

— Rather than clicking on a link found in an e-mail or on a website, type the name of the organization you wish to donate to in an online search engine. Most relief organizations end with “.org” not “.com”.

— Do not open e-mails with attachments or links claiming to show photos or videos because you may download a computer virus.

— In general, do not give out personal information such as a credit card number or bank account number to telephone solicitations.

— Do not make cash donations – use credit cards or checks, and never make checks out to individuals, but to the organization.

— Check if the charity (and paid fundraiser, if one is used) is registered with the Maryland Secretary of State (www.sos.state.md.us/Charity/SearchCharity.aspx).

— Ask how much of the donation goes toward the charitable work, and how much goes toward administrative costs of the fundraising company contacting the consumer. Be suspicious if the answer claims to be 100 percent, as all organizations have administrative costs.

Bogus charities often use names and logos that closely resemble those of other more well-known organizations. Be wary of in-person solicitors who demand an immediate payment or solicitors who offer to send a courier to pick up checks before a consumer can change his/her mind. If the consumer is donating with a credit card through an illegitimate website, they may not only have the donated amount stolen, but also become vulnerable for identity theft.

Donors have the right to ask as many questions as necessary to make an informed decision about whether or not to donate. If the charity resists answering questions, Marylanders should not donate money.

Consider visiting relief websites set up by well-known and legitimate charities such as the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), MercyCorps (www.mercycorps.org), UNICEF (www.unicefusa.org), or World Vision (www.worldvision.org).

For more information regarding charitable giving, consumers can visit the Attorney General’s website at www.oag.state.md.us/consumer/tip42.htm.

If consumers have any questions concerning a charity, they should call the Charitable Organizations Division of the Maryland Secretary of State’s office at 1-800-825-4510 or visit www.sos.state.md.us/charity/charityhome.aspx.

Source: Office of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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