BBB warns scam artists could trying to cash in on Haiti

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As charitable donations for relief efforts in Haiti pour in, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance has several suggestions for consumers donating money.

In a recently issued warning, BBB officials said fraudulent charities are likely to emerge -- as they did following the South Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To help vet charities, the BBB offers these tips:

Rely on experts

Be cautious of recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, since they may not have fully researched relief organizations. Donors can visit bbb.org/charity to verify that relief organizations are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims

Some organizations might claim they give 100 percent of donations to the victims, but charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation has a processing fee. Charities that claim all money will assist victims still incur expenses -- even if they use other funds to pay for them.

Give online with caution

There are loads of spam messages and e-mails claiming to be linked to relief groups, making it difficult for the charities that really are part of the relief efforts.

Is there an on-ground presence in the affected area?

See if the charity's Web site clearly describes what it can do to address immediate needs. Unless staff are already in the area, getting workers to the area may be difficult.

Does the charity provide direct aid?

Some may raise money to pass along to relief organizations instead. You may want to give directly to charities with a presence in the area.

In-kind donations

Be it clothing or food, the well-intentioned in-kind drives may not be the quickest way to help those in need. Ask the charity about a distribution plan.

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