Watch Out For Japan Disaster Relief Scams

By Division of Trade and Consumer Protection
March 14,2011

MADISON – Natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan bring out the generous spirit in people. Unfortunately, scam artists take advantage of these tragedies and prey upon people’s desire to help the victims. This was the case following the devastating earthquake in Haiti last year.

“The scenes of unimaginable destruction in Japan will prompt many to donate,” said Sandy Chalmers, Administrator of the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. “If contributors do their homework, they can ensure their donations go to charitable organizations with a well-established track record.”

Consumer Protection offers these tips to avoid phony charitable solicitations:

Donate to established, reputable organizations, such as the American Red Cross, UNICEF, World Vision, or other charitable organizations you know and trust.

Be suspicious of brand new, unknown organizations, along with those with names that are similar – but not identical – to established organizations.

Be especially wary of electronic solicitations such as e-mails and text messages, or postings on websites such as Craigslist. Scammers use these methods to quickly reach large numbers of potential victims. If you are not certain of the source of such communication, do not respond. Instead, contact the established charity of your choice and directly make your donation.

Never provide your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account numbers, or other personally identifiable information to a solicitor. This information could easily be used by an identity thief to commit fraud against you.

Avoid donating cash. Use a check or credit card (when directly dealing with a legitimate charity). When paying by check, be sure to make it out to the exact name of the charity.

Be cautious when making an online donation. Most legitimate charity websites end in “dot-org” rather than “dot-com”. Also, use sites with a URL address that begins with “https” – the “s” stands for secure. Only make a credit card transaction when you initiate the contact and know you are using a legitimate site.

Never feel pressured into making a donation. Legitimate charities will give you time to consider your options and do not expect an immediate donation.

If you are uncertain about a charity, check it out with the Better Business Bureau (1-800-273-1002) or Other helpful resources include or Always find out what percentage of your donation is going directly toward relief efforts and what portion is used for administrative costs, etc.

Under Wisconsin law, most organizations soliciting for charitable donations must register and file an annual report with the Department of Regulation and Licensing. Religious and veteran organizations are exempt from registration.
“We are extremely proud of Wisconsin’s charitable reputation,” added Chalmers. “We want to all donations to be used as they are intended to help the victims in Japan.”

For more consumer information, or to file a consumer complaint, visit the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s website at; via e-mail at or call toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.


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