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CONTACT: Geoff Greenwood, Communications Director
515-281-6699, geoff.greenwood@iowa.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 14, 2011

Consumer Alert: Japan Relief Scams

(DES MOINES, Iowa)  Attorney General Tom Miller reminds Iowans to be careful about scam artists taking advantage of generous Iowans who plan to donate to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan.

“Unfortunately, there are those who will try to cash in on such an awful human tragedy like this,” said Miller.  “While I know Iowans want to help, I urge people to be careful about how they help.  Take the time to check out a charity before you donate.”

First, give to a charitable or church-related fund that you’re familiar with.  “We know from experience with previous disasters that new groups will emerge, and so will sound-alike charities,” Miller said.  “They may call or they e-mail.  Either way you should say no until you can check it out for yourself.”

Miller recommends that consumers keep these tips in mind before donating to a disaster relief fund:

  • Donate to familiar charities.  These should be tried-and-true established disaster relief organizations, like the American Red Cross at www.RedCross.org.  Make sure the name is not a sound-alike organization.

  • Do not respond to unsolicited calls or e-mails.  If you receive an unsolicited e-mail, simply delete it.  Don’t click on links or open ANY attachments, because they could expose you to phishing scams or computer viruses.  It’s best to seek an organization through an Internet search engine, as opposed to clicking on a link that you received.

  • Do your homework by checking on the charity.  Check with organizations like www.CharityNavigator.org, www.BBB.org, or the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to learn more about the organization seeking your donations.

  • If you donate through a website, ensure that the transaction is secure.  When you are entering your credit card information, you should see an “https:” in the web address prefix (the “s” means it is secure).

  • They want it right now?  The answer is no!  If a solicitor is pressuring you for a donation, this is likely a scam.  Take the time to check on a charity.  You can search the Internet or even request written information from the charity.  A legitimate charity will respond to your request.  Ask how much of your donation actually helps others, and how much goes to administrative costs.

  • While most charities seek money, don’t pay in cash.  Pay by check or credit card on a secure website, which will help you keep records for security and tax purposes.  Food, clothing and relief supplies are much more difficult to distribute, and may actually hinder relief efforts.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590 toll free. Web site: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.

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