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Michigan Attorney General warns of Japan earthquake/tsunami scams

(flickr U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew M. Bradley/Released)
OFUNATO, Japan (March 15, 2011) - A fishing boat is noticeably out of place after being swept ashore during a massive tsunami that impacted this Japanese fishing port. The town was devastated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake that triggered the destructive t

Michigan’s Attorney General issued a warning today about a growing number of scams linked to the Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami disaster.  Numerous scams have popped up since last week’s disaster, including a viral video making the rounds on Facebook purporting to show people fleeing the tsunami wave.

 Attorney General Bill Schuette says Michiganders wanting to help should beware of phony charities trying to take advantage of them.  

"Even during tough times, the people of Michigan give generously to charities that assist disaster victims around the world….It's important to take steps to ensure your dollars are not lost to fraud and your financial information remains secure."

The alert issued today has specific suggestions for not being taken by a scam:

1) Be skeptical of unsolicited email requests for donations, even if they appear to be from a legitimate charity.  Email is a common method used by thieves to steal personal information, whether through a fake online donation form, or a more sinister computer virus.    

2)  Be skeptical of unsolicited cell phone text messages and social media appeals through sites like Twitter and Facebook.  While some charities now accept donations via cell phone and social networking sites, unsolicited requests should be viewed with caution.

3) Check up on charities by calling the Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section.  Michigan charities must register with the Attorney General's office, and many are required to submit financial information which can be made available to citizens upon request.   

4) Choose established charitable organizations that have a history of assisting in disasters.  The American Red Cross, United Way of America, Catholic Relief Services and the Salvation Army are just a few of many charities that either give immediate relief or assist  in rebuilding communities after disaster.

5)   Make your check payable to the organization, never to an individual.   

6)  Request and keep receipts from the organization detailing the amount of your donation, the date and its intended use. 

7)   Use caution before giving credit card numbers over the phone or online.  If you are concerned, ask the organization how it will safeguard your financial information.      

8) When donating online, ensure you are using a secure web page for financial transactions.  In most cases, secure sites will be preceded by "https://".

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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