Avoid charity scams – Japan earthquake disaster

18 March 2011

SCAMwatch is warning consumers to thoroughly check the legitimacy of charities when donating to Japan disaster relief.

Whilst many legitimate charities exist, charity scams may begin to emerge around the Japan earthquake disaster. Scammers have been known to take advantage of the public’s generosity and kindness in the aftermath of disastrous events. Recent charity scams emerged during the floods in Queensland and other Australian states, the Haiti earthquake crisis in 2010 and the Victorian bushfires in 2009.

Charity scams operate in a number of different ways. You may be approached on the street or in your home by people collecting money who are pretending to be from a legitimate charity. Scammers may also set up false websites which look similar to those operated by real charities. Some scammers will approach you by telephone or with spam emails requesting donations. Spam emails may also contain hidden malware which is downloaded to your computer when you open an attached file or click on a link. Malware can be used to steal your personal information and online banking passwords.

Not only do these scams cost people money, they also divert much needed donations away from legitimate charities and causes. This is particularly concerning given the number of recent disasters in Australia and abroad.

Warning signs for charity scams

  • You have not heard of the charity before.
  • The scam operates via a fake website which is a very close replica to a legitimate charity site. Scammers may also use replica letters and emails.
  • A collector makes a face-to-face approach but does not have any identification or has forged identification.
  • The collector cannot or will not give you details about the charity, such as its full name, address or phone number.
  • The collector becomes defensive over questions about what the charity does and how much of the donation gets taken up by costs.
  • The collector asks for cash, won't accept a cheque or asks for any cheque to be made out to them rather than to the charity. Illegitimate online collectors will insist on payment by money transfer.
  • The collector doesn’t want to provide a receipt or the receipt does not have the charity’s details on it.

How to protect yourself from charity scams

  • Approach charity organisations directly to make a donation.
  • Don’t rely on a phone number or website address given by the person who first called, visited or emailed you because they could be impersonating a legitimate charity.
  • Do not open or reply to suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam) even to unsubscribe – delete them and never click on any links or open any files attached to them.
  • Never give out your personal, credit card or online account details unless you initiated contact and it is a trusted source.
  • If you are approached out of the blue by a collector ask to see their identification.
  • Legitimate charities are registered at the state or territory level - check with your local fair trading agency to see if they are a genuine charity. 
  • Don't open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam) - delete them. 

Report

You can report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page on SCAMwatch.

More information

Check out our charity scams page for more information.

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