Mellody Hobson: How to Help Hurricane Katrina Victims

If you live in neighboring areas that were not devastated by the hurricane, you may be able to provide assistance in other forms, such as shelter or transportation. While it is best to offer this assistance through a relief organization that can coordinate all efforts, some generous people are offering beds in their own homes on the Craig's list Web site.

How can I avoid scams when making a donation?

When disaster strikes, many individuals want to help those in need by giving donations to aid organizations. Unfortunately, scam artists recognize this altruism as an opportunity to make money by approaching unsuspecting people. As such, it is critically important to research the organization to which you are giving money and be wary of some red flags. Here are some simple steps to take to avoid being scammed:

Ignore solicitations: First and foremost, like legitimate solicitations for aid, fraudulent requests can come in the form of e-mail, telephone or door-to-door contact. Therefore, be sure to request written material from the soliciting organization before agreeing to give money. Never reply back to an e-mail soliciting your help for tsunami victims if they require you to send your bank information and Social Security number. However, please note that the American Red Cross is sending e-mails to people who have made previous donations.

Take your time: Steer clear of any solicitor or organization that plays on your emotions and pressures you to make a quick decision about giving.

Confirm tax-deductible status: If you want your contribution to be tax-deductible, be sure to confirm the tax status of the aid organization. That information is available on the Internal Revenue Service Web site, www.irs.gov. In order to claim the deduction, the organization must be classified as tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Provide a secure contribution: If you decide to give online via credit card, exercise caution and make sure you are giving through a secure site. Alternatively, consider making donations via check or money order payable to a specific organization. Do not give cash.

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