City News Service
The FBI urged charity-minded San Diegans Wednesday to use caution when making donations to help the victims of last week's earthquake and tsunami catastrophe in Japan.
In the aftermath of such disasters, criminals often exploit the suffering of others for their own gain by sending fraudulent e-mails and creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions, the federal agency advised.
The fraudulent solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, fliers, mailings, telephone calls and other methods, according to a statement from the FBI's San Diego office.
Authorities advise anyone considering making a charitable donation of any kind to adhere to the following guidelines:
• Do not respond to any unsolicited spam e-mails, or click on links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses;
• Be skeptical of people representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking websites;
• Beware of organizations with names similar to but not exactly the same as those of known reputable charities;
• Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status;
• Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because the links may contain viruses;
• Only open e-mail attachments from familiar and trusted senders;
• To ensure contributions are properly received and used for the intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf;
• Do not be pressured into making contributions, as reputable charities do not use such tactics;
• Be aware of whom you deal with when providing your personal and financial information, since revealing such data may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft;
• Avoid cash donations if possible; pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity, and do not make checks payable to individuals;
• Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services, and their website addresses generally end in "dot-org'" rather than "dot-com.'"
The FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud have created a telephone tip line to receive information from the public about suspected crimes associated with the crisis in Japan. The center, which is is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can be reached at (866) 720-5721.
E-mails can be sent to
, and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.
The national fraud center was created by the Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute, and deter swindlers and thieves in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region.
The agency's mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or man-made disaster. More than 20 federal agencies, including the FBI, participate in the NCDF, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster-relief fraud.
Consumers can also report suspicious e-mail solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center,