Avoiding disaster donation scams

As people seek ways to donate money and goods to support people devastated by the massive Japanese earthquake last week, it is important they also be wary of scam artists seeking to take advantage of their goodwill, CBS News Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis cautioned on "The Early Show."

After Haiti's earthquake, there were more than 350 complaints about fraudulent activity. For Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, there were 1,426 individuals brought up on disaster fraud indictments.

Japan's quake disaster: How you can help

Disasters are not limited to fraudulent donation centers, either. Criminals claimed to be able to get Visas to get people out of Haiti. Individuals claimed to collect money to take supplies to the victims. Of course, they kept the cash.

People who want to help need to know the correct contact information for US and international aid groups as well as any limitations, such as how they do or don't accept money, if they have any donation minimums, etc.

Tips for avoiding getting scammed:

- Do not respond to unsolicited (SPAM) e-mail.

- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials soliciting via e-mail for donations.

- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.

- Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

- To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

- Validate the legitimacy of the organization by directly accessing the recognized charity or aid organization's website rather than following an alleged link to the site.

- Attempt to verify the legitimacy of the non-profit status of the organization by using various Internet based resources, which also may assist in confirming the actual existence of the organization.

- Do not provide personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

To obtain more information on charitable contribution schemes and other types of online schemes, visit www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com.

If you believe you have been a victim of a charity related scheme, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by telephone at (866) 720-5721, or by fax at (225) 334-4707, or by e-mail at disaster@leo.gov.1 You can also report suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

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