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Smart, Safe Ways to Donate to Japan Disaster Relief

Follow these tips to ensure that you're giving to a legitimate organization and that your dollars will be spent wisely.

It's pretty much a given now that con artists will use natural disasters as an opportunity to take advantage of people who want to make donations to help the victims. So if you're considering contributing to relief efforts for the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, here's what you need to know to make sure your money goes to a legitimate organization.

Tips for avoiding fraud

Don't respond to unsolicited e-mails from people claiming to be victims or representatives for a disaster-relief group. And don't click on any links or attachments within the e-mail because they may take you to a fraudulent site or contain viruses.

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Beware of people asking for donations on social networking sites. If you don't know the person, it could be a fraudulent request. Even if you do know the person, you should contribute directly to an organization rather than through another individual.

Avoid telemarketers. Don't give personal information over the phone to anyone who is soliciting donations. Research an organization before giving.

Make sure a charity's Web site is legitimate. Scammers set up bogus sites that mimic real charities' sites. Misspellings of the organization's name in the url (such as redcros.org instead of redcross.org) or on the homepage are tipoffs that the site is fraudulent.

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Avoid giving to newly formed groups. There's a good chance that groups claiming to have just formed in response to a disaster are bogus because establishing a legitimate charity takes time. Charity Navigator has a list of well-established groups that are providing relief to victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. You also can research charities at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance site.

Tips for selecting and giving to a charity

As you're selecting a charity, you should consider what you want your donation to accomplish and ensure that your dollars will be spent wisely. Charity Navigator and BBB offer this advice to consider before you give:

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Don't rush. Even if you feel an urgent need to help the disaster victims in Japan, you may want to wait to give until charities have time to develop a plan for providing aid.

Consider the type of aid a charity provides. Charities will respond to the disaster in many ways, from providing immediate medical assistance to long-term rebuiling efforts. And some charities may be acting as middlemen only -- raising money to pass on to other groups. You need to decide what you want your contribution to accomplish and find a group providing that sort of aid. Charity Navigator provides links to the sites of groups providing relief in Japan so you can find out more about their efforts.

Designate your donation. Let the organization know that you want your contribution to be used for disaster relief in Japan. But be aware that your donation likely will not be used solely for assisting victims because some of the money may be used for the charity's administrative costs.

Reconsider texting your donation. Using your phone to text a donation can be a fast and easy way to give. But you may have to pay service fees to donate this way, and it can take up to 90 days for the charity to receive your donation, according to Charity Navigator.

See our checklist for more ways to make sure your giving gets the results you want.

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