Beware of Charitable Scams During Japan Relief Effort

In wake of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that has caused widespread disaster in Japan and some areas of the United States, the Office of the Attorney General is cautioning generous Texans to carefully vet relief organizations before making any charitable contributions.

By doing a little research, well-meaning Texans can ensure their dollars actually help the recovery effort and aid victims – rather than funding fraudulent scams set up to capitalize on a tragedy.

Texans who are solicited for charitable contributions to relief efforts by telephone, text message, e-mail, mail, social networking sites or otherwise should consider the following:
  • Ensure the relief organization is legitimate. Ask for credentials, including the soliciting entity’s exact name and telephone number, particularly if the purported relief organization is not well known.
  • Call the charity directly and confirm that the solicitor is actually working for that organization.
  • Watch for questionable charities using names that closely resemble the names of well-known charities.
  • Find out how the donation will be used.
  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on descriptions about how charitable contributions will aid the recovery effort.
  • Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate decision. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations.
  • Never give a credit card or bank account number to an unknown solicitor.
  • Never give cash and never agree to give money to a courier. Write a check to the charity directly - not the soliciting individual - and get a receipt.
For information about specific relief operations currently underway, Texans should contact the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). AIP is a national charity watchdog service that assists donors with identifying reliable charitable organizations. Texans should visit their Web site at www.charitywatch.org.

Texans who wish to file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General regarding suspicious e-mail charity solicitations may call the Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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