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Scam Alert

7 Ways to Spot Fake Charities After a Disaster

Here's how to give without getting scammed

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Man waiting to answer phone, Scam Alert, Deceptive charity cons (HA Photos/Alamy)

Fake "pop-up" charities seek donations, and your personal information, by phone, email, websites and even in person. — Alamy

En español | After tragedy strikes — be it tornados in Oklahoma, bombings in Boston or a typhoon in the Phillippines — expect two immediate reactions: Well-intentioned people will want to give donations. And scammers will want to take them.

Within hours of any disaster, charity scams go into full swing. Even before Superstorm Sandy made landfall, 1,000 new websites with "Sandy," "relief" or related keyword search terms in them had been registered, many of them by scammers.

Some of the bogus websites seek your credit card number to collect supposed donations, possibly also using that information later for identity theft. Others infect your computer with malware that can ferret out sensitive information, such as your account numbers or passwords.

Fraudsters also do their work by blasting out thousands of spam emails, text messages and phone calls. They get their word out on Facebook and Twitter and even go door-to-door.

"Tragedies inspire people to give," says H. Art Taylor of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. "After every natural disaster and manmade catastrophe, we see an outpouring of generosity … along with the inevitable scams and frauds. We urge donors to take the time to make sure their donations are going to legitimate charities." Here's how:

1. Check it out

Before donating to a charity, take time to authenticate it. In addition to the Wise Giving Alliance, charity names and reputations can be vetted at Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar. You can also contact the agency in your state that regulates charities. Be suspicious of charities not listed or with questionable track records.

2. Don't let them in

Unless you previously donated to an organization and have already provided your contact information, it's wise to assume that an unsolicited donation request by email or phone is a scam. Don't click on links in emails, Facebook or Twitter; they can unleash computer malware.

3. Examine the Web address

When using an Internet search engine to find charities, treat the results pages with caution. Carefully read organizations' Internet addresses before clicking on them. Scammers often create rogue websites with sly misspellings, tweaks or sound-alike names. Also know that legitimate nonprofit organizations typically end in .org, not .com.

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