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Jan. 28, 2010

Disasters, like the earthquakes in Haiti, can bring out the best in people. But scammers often will try to take advantage of a disaster by tricking people into sending them money.


Scammers who use the U.S. Mail to misrepresent charities can be prosecuted. The penalty is a fine or up to five years’ imprisonment, or both. If a financial institution is affected, the penalty can include a fine of $1 million, imprisonment for up to 30 years, or both.


How can you tell which solicitations are legitimate and which are not? The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers the following guidelines when donating to charities:


If you’re unfamiliar with the charity or if there is anything in the solicitation that makes you suspicious, ask for its annual report and financial statement.

Make checks payable to the organization only — never to an individual.

Be suspicious of solicitors who say they will accept your donation in cash only. Con artists want cash so there will be no paper trail for authorities to follow.

Report any suspicious organizations to your local Postmaster or Postal Inspector.

If you’re unfamiliar with an organization, or if the name is close but not the same as a well-known charity, you can check it out by visiting the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance website. Or write the Alliance at:


BBB Wise Giving Alliance

4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800

Arlington, VA 22203


Report any suspicious mail concerning relief charities for Haiti by calling the Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and selecting option 5.

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