Police chief warns of tsunami scams

In the weeks following the Asian tsunami disaster, thousands of charities have pulled out all the stops in order to provide immediate relief to the region. Thousands more Americans have opened their wallets and their hearts and given generously to organizations such as World Vision, Mercy Corps and the Red Cross.

However, Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend cautioned against giving to any organization without first taking the time to research who they are, what they do and how much they give.

“Whenever there is some sort of natural disaster, (corrupt) individuals come out and end up preying on other people’s emotions,” Townsend said. “In a time when more people are likely to give money, there are more people preying.”

Townsend recommends those who wish to donate check on businesses at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at or nonprofit information sites such as GuideStar.

GuideStar,, offers information about the programs and finances of more than 1 million IRS-recognized charitable organizations. It is a national database of nonprofit information. GuideStar powers many on-line giving systems and distributes free and subscription-based nonprofit data to grantmakers, nonprofits, donors, government charity regulators, and professionals serving the sector.

If a donor suspects his or her money has been stolen or misused, Townsend recommends contacting authorities to see if a pattern can be established.

“If it happens that they know they got swindled out of money, they should report it to the local police,” Townsend said. “(But) a lot of times they’ll never even know.”

GuideStar representatives offer these suggestions for donors who want to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami but don’t know which charity to support:

• Identify your preferences. “Disaster relief” comes in many forms — emergency shelter, food, clothing, potable water, medical assistance, even communications as aid workers coordinate activities and survivors search for family members. Think about which activities you want to support. There’s no right or wrong answer, just what’s right for you.

• Search the GuideStar database ( Click on “Do this search now” in the “Tsunami Relief” box on the home page to find charities that offer international disaster relief.

• Focus on the mission. Look at each charity’s description in the GuideStar search results, on its Web site, or in its literature. Find the nonprofits that fit your criteria.

• Get the cold, hard facts. A reputable charity will define its mission and programs clearly, have measurable goals, use concrete criteria to describe its achievements.

• Avoid charities that won’t share information or that pressure you. Reputable nonprofits will discuss their programs and finances, don’t use pressure tactics, are willing to send you literature about their work or direct you to a Web site, will take “no” for an answer and will answer questions about how your contribution will be used.

• Then trust your instincts and contribute to the charity or charities of your choice.

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