disasterWhile your heart might want to help disaster victims in Japan or elsewhere, Better Business Bureau officials say that you should also keep your mind on your wallet.

Natural disasters bring out con artists and schemers, Cindy Dudley, director of Business Services for the BBB, said in a recent statement that bears repeating.

"People want to help and often feel that charities with the name of the disaster are an express way to channel funds directly to the victim," she said.One way to double check is to look on www.wisegiving.org to make sure charities are legitimate, reporting on how much of each dollar goes to relief agencies, compared to fund raising efforts and overhead. Guidestar.org is also a good reference.

Good charities donate more than 80% of funds raised directly to the program. Make sure you get a receipt printed with the name and contact information from the charity.

It's not just an international issue. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued a warning to state flood victims, warning them to be wary of home improvement contractors looking to take advantage of them.

This past summer, scammers tried to take advantage of people who wanted to help with the oil spill disaster, some posing as insurance adjusters who said they could expedite claims for a fee.

Similar concerns happened with the Haiti earthquake and just recently, to Haiti earthquake victims targeted with fake immigration promises.

The Federal Trade Commission offers guidelines for those wanting to give, but also trying to be careful.

Here are five quick tips. More can be found here.

  1. Background the charity: Go to bbb.org/charity to check whether the organization is legit.
  2. Be careful when giving online. If an email comes with a link, be wary. It's better if you go to the organization's website directly to give.
  3. Is the charity involved? If they don't have people already on the ground in Japan, make sure you know where your money is going.
  4. Donations by texting may be easy, but it can also take a long time for the money to get to the people who need it.
  5. Be wary of organizations who promise that 100 percent will go to victims. Companies have to pay employees, for food, for supplies, etc. Look for a company that is upfront about its spending.
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