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MADISON - Natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti bring out the generous spirit in people, as well they should. All of us should do what we can to help the people of Haiti in their time of crisis.
Unfortunately, scam artists take advantage of tragedies and prey upon people's desire to help victims. They do so by raising money for bogus charities and pocketing the donations themselves instead of using it to help the victims. Scammers did this after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Asian tsunami, and they are doing so in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti.
People need our help and it is important to give generously. However, it is equally important to give wisely. Here are some tips to avoid phony charitable solicitations:
1) Donate to established, reputable organizations, such as the American Red Cross, UNICEF, World Vision or other charitable efforts that may be sponsored by your church or other community organizations with which you are familiar. Be suspicious of brand new, unknown organizations, as well as those with names that are similar--but not identical--to established organizations. If you are unsure of an organization, check it out. There are multiple reliable sources you can use including www.give.org www.guidestar.org or www.charitynavigator.org. Also, ask the solicitor to send you written information about the charity. Fraudulent charities seldom have written materials to send although they may have a website.
2) Be especially wary of electronic solicitations such as emails and text messages or postings on sites such as Craigslist. Scammers use these methods to reach large numbers of potential victims quickly and at little expense to themselves. If you are not totally sure of the source of the email or other communication, do not respond to it. Instead, contact the established charity of your choice directly to make your donation.
3) Do not provide your social security number, credit card number, bank account numbers or other personal financial information to a charitable solicitor. You could be handing over the information an identity thief could use to commit fraud against you. However, you may safely donate to a legitimate charity by using a credit card on their website.
4) Avoid donating cash. Use a check or credit card (with the legitimate charity directly) instead, and write the exact name of the charity on your check.
5) Do not be pressured into giving money "on the spot" if you are contacted directly. Legitimate charities dont expect an immediate donation.
6) If you feel you have been contacted or victimized by a fraudulent charity, contact Consumer Protection at:
Email: datcphotline@ Wisconsin.gov