Avoid charity scams

FRESNO, Calif.

But with so many charitable funds available, it's especially important to think before you give.

Unfortunately -- with every major disaster -- scam artists try to take advantage of people's generosity. We saw it with 9/11, the Haiti earthquake, and Katrina.

So look for well-established non-profits like the American Red Cross or check before you send in that check.

The startling pictures of the wreckage left behind from Japan's earthquake and tsunami might have you wondering how you can help. But the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau are warning -- fraudulent charities will emerge.

Charity watchdog site "Charity Navigator" says consider giving to established charities and even better, one that has previous experience in Japan.

Your money is more likely to have an impact if the organization has a solid track record of responding to major disasters. Be wary of e-mail solicitations -- its unlikely legitimate charities will ask you directly for money.

Text messaging has become a popular way to contribute, with the donation tacked on to your monthly mobile bill. But make sure you know where that money is really going by doing homework first, and be mindful there may be additional costs to send that gift.

You may see a lot of links in your Facebook or Twitter feeds pointing you towards third-party charity sites.

But just because it looks like a friend or follower has endorsed the link, doesn't mean you shouldn't do some vetting of your own.

There are also some options through sites that consumers use every day. Group buying site Groupon has offered users the opportunity to donate to relief efforts in the region the same way they'd purchase a daily deal, while living social has a link to a relief fund on their site as well.

If you'd like to donate to the red cross with a simple text message or phone call on your cell phone, just text the word "REDCROSS" to 90999.

$10 will be added to your next cell phone bill. You can also call the Red Cross to donate.

That number is 1-800-733-2767.

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