Boxer, Harris want donors’ money to reach Japan

Japan is suffering in the wake of the greatest natural disaster it has ever faced, and the need for charitable donations to support its recovery remains huge, but here are a few things to consider as you whip out your credit card.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote today to the CEOs of the nation’s four biggest wireless companies, urging them to accelerate the delivery of mobile charitable donations for Japanese relief efforts. Mobile donations, which have grown more popular in recent years, can take 30 to 90 days to be sent to a relief organization while being collected through the wireless company’s billing process.

In past humanitarian crises, such as the earthquake in Haiti last year, mobile companies expedited donations to ensure that relief groups could start using the money immediately to help disaster victims. Concerns about the delay in remitting text donations to Japan were raised recently by Masaya Uchino, a third-year law student at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; Uchino created an online petition at Change.org to draw attention to the issue.

And California Attorney General Kamala Harris encouraged Californians to donate but warned them to beware of scams posing as charities to prey on the goodwill in times of tragedy. Harris advises everyone to:

    1. Carefully review disaster-relief appeals before giving. In times of disaster, many “sound-alike” organizations and sham operations solicit donations.
    2. Make sure the charity is registered in the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee that a charity is effective, but it is an important indicator.
    3. Ask what percentage of your donation will be used for charitable activities that directly help victims.
    4. Avoid donating through e-mail solicitations. Clicking on an e-mail may lead you to a website that looks authentic but is established by identity thieves seeking to obtain money or personal information.
    5. Only provide your credit card information once you have reviewed all information from a charity and verified its credibility. Ask the organization not to store your credit card information.
    6. Do not give cash. Write checks payable to the charitable organization, not a solicitor.
    7. Take action on your own rather than responding to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly, either by calling the organization, using the organization’s official website, or mailing a check to the address listed on the organization’s website.

Californians who believe they or others have been victimized by fraudulent charitable solicitation can contact the Attorney General’s Registrar of Charitable Trusts.

Scams also can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, the Disaster Fraud Fax at 225-334-4707 or the Disaster Fraud e-mail at disaster@leo.gov. The NCDF was created in 2005 in response to a lot of fraud associated with federal disaster relief programs after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma; its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud related to any natural or man-made disaster. To date, the U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 1,300 defendants across the nation for disaster fraud related to the three hurricanes, the Gulf Coast oil spill and other disasters.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.