Criminals won't hesitate to use natural disasters to collect credit card numbers from unsuspecting donors, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC alerted consumers that scam artists could portray themselves as collectors for disaster relief efforts in Japan and elsewhere. Agency officials advised prospective donors to review the FTC's Charity Checklist, an online list of precautions for consumers to take when solicited online, in person, or by phone. FTC recommendations include:

  • Using credit cards instead of cash or debit cards to prevent criminals from draining bank accounts. Credit cards often include enhanced fraud protection, preventing fraud rings from accessing consumers' cash.
  • Asking whether a solicitor works directly for a charity or for a third-party fundraising firm. Professional fundraisers can charge high fees for processing donors' credit cards, while many legitimate relief agencies enjoy discounted or waived interchange fees during times of crisis.

According to FTC officials, legitimate charities will encourage prospective donors to use credit cards directly on their own websites, instead of demanding account details over the phone.