Like other disasters, the Christmas Week tsunami will be followed by charity scams designed to separate generous consumers from their money.
Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is among those warning the public to beware of potential scam artists posing as relief agencies for the victims of the tsunami in Asia.
"It's clear that there will be a great need for assistance for the tens of thousands of victims of this terrible disaster," Bronson said. "But people who want to help need to ensure their donations are going to actual victims and not to con artists."
Bronson's department has received reports in past disasters, such as wildfires and following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, of organizations seeking help for victims and pocketing the money.
It's difficult to investigate these cases because scam artists are usually gone from an area before anyone realizes they've been conned. So Bronson says it's incumbent on consumers to take precautions to avoid being victimized. Consumers may be approached over the phone, on the Internet or through direct mail.
Bronson also provides the following tips to consider when deciding whether to donate to an organization:
• Don't judge an organization based on an impressive sounding name. Find out what it actually does.
• Be wary of emotional appeals and organizations that have only vague plans for spending the funds they collect.
• Never give cash. Write a check payable only to an organization --not an individual.
• Be wary of organizations that offer to send a 'runner' to pick up your donation. Reputable charities are willing to wait for your contribution.
• Consumers have the right to ask for an organization's financial report and its federal tax identification number-the latter of which you'll need to claim your contribution as a tax deduction.