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Oregon attorney general warns of Japan disaster relief scams

Scam artists are savvier than ever at taking money for personal gain

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has warned Oregonians to be alert for scam artists posing as Japan disaster relief charities.

While many legitimate organizations are seeking donations to aid victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, thieves are sending e-mails, making phone calls and posting fake video footage on social media sites to steal money and personal information.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, text messages became a convenient and popular way to donate to legitimate groups like the American Red Cross. But scam artists caught on to this trend and started sending mass 'charity relief' text messages, requesting credit card numbers and other sensitive information.

In a new twist on the 'emergency' scam, hackers are now using alleged video footage of the disaster in Japan linked to online surveys that are designed to extract personal information. For example, one report describes a video linked to a scammer's Facebook account. By clicking on the video, the viewer's personal information shared on Facebook becomes available to the scammer.

On Tuesday, Kroger offered the following tips to avoid common emergency relief scams:

•Be sure you are contributing to a legitimate organization registered with the Attorney General's office by searching www.oregonattorneygeneral.gov/cgi-bin/charigroup_db_query.pl> or calling 971-673-1880.

•Give to established charities. Make sure the charity was around before the disaster.

•Do not respond to e-mail requests from supposed disaster victims. Unless you know someone in Japan, these requests are almost always scams. Also, be wary of donation requests or videos posted on social media sites by alleged victims or unfamiliar charities.

•Do not give out personal information via phone, text or e-mail. Legitimate charities will be pleased to receive a contribution by check. Don't send contributions with a 'runner,' by wire or overnight parcel pick-up service.

•Beware of calls, e-mails and texts requesting fast money. If you are unfamiliar with the charity, always ask for written materials. Watch out for solicitors who employ dramatic, emotional or heart-tugging stories.

Last year, Oregonians reported losing nearly $2 million to scams. Anyone who thinks they may have been contacted by a scammer should call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 or go to www.oregonattorneygeneral.gov for information on how to proceed with reporting a suspected scam attempt.