TRENTON, N.J.— Mercer County residents are opening their hearts and wallets to help the millions of people in Haiti who have been devastated by the Jan. 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake there, but Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the County Office of Consumer Affairs want residents to be aware of a number of scams that are taking place, and suggest safe avenues to donate to the Haiti Relief Effort.
“There has been an immediate outpouring of generosity by the people of Mercer County, from school children gathering up all their loose change, scout groups giving donations, church and civic groups offering money and supplies and citizens across the board asking how they can assist the great people of Haiti,” said Hughes, but often in the wake of such a crisis, scam artists take an opportunity to exploit the generosity of others.”
Mercer County’s Office of Consumer Affairs can help direct donors to competent relief organizations, so that their money gets to needy victims.
Before sending money to any organization that claims it's helping with relief efforts in Haiti, Mercer County and the Better Business Bureau recommends the following:
- Be cautious when giving online, especially in response to spam messages and emails that provide links to relief organizations.
- 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.
- Don't rely on the advice of bloggers, Web sites, or other third-party groups about which relief organizations to support. They may not have done their homework. The Office of Consumer Affairs has tools that consumers can use to research charities and relief organizations to verify they're legitimate.
- Be leery of groups that claim 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs.
InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations, has a list of agencies responding and how to donate to them. Find it here: http://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. The organization is also accepting donations through its International Response Fund, http://www.redcross.org
World Water for Haiti provides solar water pump and purifications systems called Mobile MaxPure. To contribute to the non-profit agency, send donations to Worldwater & Solar Technologies Inc., Technology Center of Princeton, 330 Carter Rd, 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 http://www.theIRC.org or call toll free, 1-877-REFUGEE.
To donate through Oxfam's emergency appeal, visit http://www.oxfam.org.uk
Consumers who think they may have been victimized by a Haiti Relief scam should contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at (609) 989-6671 or online at
http://nj.gov/counties/mercer/commissions/consumer/index.html. Additionally, the FBI has established a telephone hotline, National Center for Disaster Fraud, to report suspected Haiti earthquake relief fraud. The number is (866) 720-5721. The phone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also can be e-mailed at email@example.com.