Many of us are still reeling at what we see in the media as Japan continues to pick up the pieces following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and at least two tsunamis in recent days. For anyone who follows current events via Twitter or other social networking, you’ve seen first hand how people have reached out to help those most in need.
The question, though, is how to help without being taken. How do you know you’re not being scammed? Is texting your donation really safe? Is it safe to enter your credit card information on a disaster relief website? We’ve put together a few tips that will allow you to confidently provide financial assistance while not leaving your financial information vulnerable.
What Not to Do
First, it’s important to note that Japan is financially well-off. Catherine Bragg, the United Nations Ambassador to Japan, said over the weekend that while all the help is appreciated, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes there is such a thing as “too much” help.
She also said at least 69 nations and their people have stepped up to the plate to offer financial assistance, but she was also quick to point out that some of the help the country is receiving is frankly more of a burden. She used the example of a shipment of bread that sits at an airport because there’s no way to transport it. She instead encourages people to make a donation to credible international organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Be careful when browsing Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as you search for a legitimate agency. Anyone can make a Facebook page look legitimate. The last thing you want to do is give your MasterCard or Visa credit card number to the wrong person. Instead of clicking on a link, point your browser to the charity’s website via your browser bar. Also, true charitable organizations will end their websites with a .org. You can be sure the necessary precautions are in place to protect your financial and credit card information.
Don’t be swayed by a familiar looking logo and emails that have “click here” links. Logos are easily copied off of websites and by clicking a link, it can take you to another website that looks legitimate, though is anything but. Speaking of emails, don’t open attachments. No legitimate organization will send attachments nor will they ask you to wire money. If anything, donors who wire funds would be a nightmare at tax time.
Credit card donations are far easier to document for both the receiver and the donor. At a minimum, you should check your to be sure your chosen charity is safe by visiting Charity Navigator. This is a free evaluator and is the country’s largest. It closely monitors the more than 5,500 charities in the United States.
Texting your donation is fine, but keep in mind those same rules for email solicitations. Also, you won’t be able to use your credit card, though you can pay your cell phone bill where the donation will be documented with your credit card. Check with those legitimate charities websites for their texting information. For instance, by texting “REDCROSS to 90999” is the official Red Cross text number.
Another great resource is your credit card companies themselves. They will be able to offer secure ways, usually through the website, to donate. Visa, MasterCard and the other big names will happily accommodate those customers who wish to do good.
If Your Credit Card Information is Stolen
If you discover your credit card has been compromised, call your credit card company immediately. The sooner you can get it reported and the wheels in motion, the sooner the thieves can be stopped. Don’t forget the power of the Better Business Bureau, either. Finally, don’t be surprised if you don’t see your donation on your credit card statement for a few months. It can sometimes take up to ninety days for it to reflect on your statement.
Disasters bring out the best in us; they speak to the more charitable side of our hearts. Unfortunately, it can also bring the worst human nature to light too; those thieves who thrive on making a disaster worse and who have their eyes on one thing: your money.
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