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January 15, 2010

Bullock Encourages Donations to Earthquake Relief Efforts, Warns of Scams

HELENA – In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this week, Attorney General Steve Bullock encouraged Montanans to donate to relief efforts aiding the island nation, one of the poorest in the world.

But Bullock also warned that there are criminals who prey on the kindness of those looking to help. Recent tragedies and natural disasters have prompted waves of scams claiming to be raising money for those in need of aid.

“While it may take years to realize the destruction and loss from Tuesday’s earthquake, one thing is clear, the people of Haiti need our help,” said Bullock, who oversees the Montana Office of Consumer Protection. “It’s unfortunate that scam artists seek to capitalize on tragedies like this to line their own pockets – but we cannot let them stifle the generosity of hard working Montanans. There are simple guidelines everyone can use to protect themselves and get the Haitians the help they need.”

On Thursday, the White House encouraged Americans wanting to assist in the relief efforts to donate to the international fund of the American Red Cross. Those looking to make an immediate contribution to the Red Cross can have $10 charged to their cell phone bill by texting “HAITI” to “90999.” The text message donation program was started earlier this week by the U.S. State Department.

Bullock contributed to the American Red Cross this morning through the text messaging program.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued the following guidelines for those considering donating to the relief efforts:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf, to ensure your contribution is received and used for the intended purpose.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing that information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

Bullock encouraged any Montanans who feel they may have contributed to an illegitimate charity or whose personal financial information may have been compromised to contact the Office of Consumer Protection at (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500.