Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, hurricanes, earthquake – and more – are all making headlines the days. And behind the scenes, scammers are quietly preying on the victims and those anxious to help them.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission – the nation’s consumer protection agency – warns that scams frequently follow disasters. According to the FTC, legitimate charities frequently face competition from swindlers who either collect for a nonexistent charity – or are dishonest about how their “charity” will use the money. Warning for Consumers

The latest event to generate scams is the massive landslide in western Washington state, which sent a surge of wet earth into the outskirts of the tiny town of Oso – killing at least 20 and displacing many more. CNN Report on Washington Landslide

As a result, the FTC, along with Bob Ferguson, Washington state attorney general, have urged consumers to be wary of swindlers who may try to take advantage of this tragedy. “It is a natural instinct to want to provide assistance right away,” said Attorney General Ferguson, “but … I advise potential donors to exercise caution and make sure their hard-earned dollars go for the purpose intended, not to line the pockets of scam artists.” How To Help

If you’re asked to make a charitable donation to aid those in disaster-affected areas,  the FTC recommends doing some serious research to make sure your donations are going to a reputable organization.

Following are some simple tips Disaster Tips to circumvent scams in the wake of disaster:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
  • Look closely at the names of the organization. Some fake charities try to gain your trust by using names that are similar to legitimate charitable organizations.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer or don’t like the answer you get, consider donating to a different organization.
  • Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Don’t donate to unknown individuals that post their needs on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They may actually be fake victims.
  • Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
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