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How to help Nepal victims without getting ripped off

Images of destruction from the massive earthquake in Nepal will motivate lots of people to help. And perhaps even faster than the charities themselves can gear up to create aid pipelines, opportunists and crooks will line up to get their piece of the action.

The Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, state attorneys general and consumer advocates this week have issued warnings for consumers to be on the lookout for scams and are providing tips to ensure their donations go where they want them to.

Nepal death toll climbs amid search for survi... 03:16

"The news out of Nepal is horrific and the photos are heart-breaking," H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance said in a statement. "People want to help as soon as possible, and that is wonderful, but donors need to follow some key rules about supporting disaster relief so that their gifts get to those who need them most."

Fake charities and phony appeals can often seem quite real and believable. But if you follow some basic guidelines, you'll be able to dodge the fakes and get help to groups whose efforts you want to support.

The first thing to watch out for are direct appeals. These can come via Facebook, by email and on the phone, and put you in a position to donate directly to those whose hands are out.

Watch out for solicitors who use pressure tactics, particularly in phone pitches, to try to get you to donate on the spot, who resist giving you written information or who ask for cash or a check to be made out to them rather than a charity. And don't follow links in online solicitations. They can lead you to download malware or get you to give your money to an imposter.

Here are some other tips from the FTC, BBB and other consumer protection organizations:

  • Find the charity yourself, and don't rely on a pitch you hear.
  • Be very leery of guarantees, including "100% of your donation will go directly to aid victims."
  • Give money only to a group that is known and has been involved in disaster relief.
  • Be wary of charities using names that sound like a legitimate charity. It's one way that solicitors and online pitches try to dupe you into trust at a time you should be skeptical.
  • Before giving, check out the group through some of the major charity evaluation services: Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance.
  • Ask what role the charity, even a known legitimate charity, will be playing specifically in the disaster relief effort in Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley.
  • Avoid groups that appear to have sprung up overnight.
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