The urge to help the people of Haiti through the devastating earthquake on January 12 has also triggered numerous scams. The Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs has released information on safe ways to donate to the relief effort.

Online giving. Be cautious when giving online, especially in response to spam messages and E-mails that provide links to relief organizations.

Don’t rely on the advice of bloggers, websites, or other third-party groups about which relief organizations to support. They might not have done their homework. The Office of Consumer Affairs has tools e to research charities and relief organizations to verify they are legitimate.

Local? Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster area. Unless the charity has staff in the region, it’s difficult for emergency workers to quickly get in and provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical assistance.

Groups like UNICEF, Mercy Corps, and the American Red Cross already have emergency workers in the devastated areas of Haiti. Find out if the charity provides direct aid or if it’s raising money for other groups. Some charities may raise money to pass along to relief organizations.

It’s not 100 percent. Be leery of groups that claim 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs.

Links that identify suspect organizations can be found at www.mercercounty.org. InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations, has a list of agencies responding and how to donate to them at www.interaction.org/crisis-list/earthquake-haiti

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text Haiti to 90999. The amount will be added to the user’s next phone bill. You can also visit www.redcross.org

Water for Haiti provides solar water pump and purifications systems. To contribute to the nonprofit agency, send donations to WorldWater & Solar Technologies Inc., Technology Center of Princeton, 330 Carter Road, Princeton, N.J. 08540. Contributions can be made by check, credit card or PayPal, payable to World Water for Haiti or at http://worldwatersolar.com/disasterrelief/

To donate $5 to Wyclef Jean’s Haitian Yele charity, text 501501. The money will be added to the user’s next phone bill.

To find out how to help the International Rescue Committee, visit www.theIRC.org or call toll free, 1-877-REFUGEE.

To donate through Oxfam’s emergency appeal, visit www.oxfam.org.uk.

Victimized? Consumers who think they have been victimized by a Haiti relief scam can contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at 609-989-6671 or at http://nj.gov/counties/mercer/commissions/consumer/index.html.

The FBI has established a hotline to report suspected Haiti relief fraud. It can be reached at 866-720-5721, or E-mail disaster@leo.gov.

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