BBB tips on taxes, Japan quake scams

March 17, 2011 4:40:57 AM PDT
Featured news videos and media reports detailing the enormous damage from of the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan last week resulted in damage even to the Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S. has prompted many Americans to consider making donations to charities that provide relief to survivors.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises potential donors to be cautious because fraudulent charities and individuals often crop up to take advantage of their sympathy for victims of natural disasters.

"Natural disasters are an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of generous Americans at all times however when a tragedy happens they are the first and foremost to help the victims. However this generosity can be used by scammers and potential donors must be extremely careful with whom they entrust with their donations. Be especially careful check with the BBB and others agencies prior to writing that check," said Steve J. Bernas, BBB president and CEO. "Donors should be certain their money goes to competent relief organizations that have the knowledge and experience to handle the huge challenges of providing assistance in a disaster zone."

The best way to help is to donate money to a reputable humanitarian organization with a history of providing assistance in disasters and other crisis situations.

For more information about charities go to or when making a donation of any kind or entering into an agreement to obtain services, the BBB encourages consumers to follow certain guidelines, including:

Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages because they may contain computer viruses.

Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of environmental organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.

Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status.

Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.

Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.

Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fund-raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.

Be cautious when giving online to unfamiliar charities. Be wary of spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. After the tsunami disaster in 2004 and the earthquake in Haiti last year, many websites and organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims turned out to be scams.

Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity's website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middleman and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations may not be appropriate. Unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.

Depend on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on recommendations such as bloggers, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The BBB provides a Wise Giving Guide to charities at The guide shows which charities meet the BBB's stringent standards

2) Better Business Bureau Recommends Following the Top Ten Tips from the Internal Revenue Service this Tax Season

With April 18th fast approaching, it's time to start the tax filing process that we all know and love. This tax season, if you are planning to get assistance from a tax preparer or even if you're planning to do the leg work yourself, Better Business Bureau, along with the Internal Revenue Service recommend following these top ten tax filing tips.

1. Start gathering your records: Round up any documents or forms you'll need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support income or deductions you're claiming on your return.

2. Be on the lookout: W-2s and 1099s should have arrived by now and you'll need these to file your tax return.

3. Use Free File: Let Free File do the hard work for you with brand-name tax software or online fillable forms. Everyone can find an option to prepare their tax return and e-file it for free. If you made $58,000 or less, you qualify for free tax software that is offered through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. If you made more or are comfortable preparing your own tax return, there's Free File Fillable Forms , the electronic versions of IRS paper forms.

4. Try IRS e-file: After 21 years, IRS e-file has become the safe, easy and most common way to file a tax return. According to the IRS, 70 percent of taxpayers used IRS e-file . Starting in 2011, many tax preparers will be required to use e-file and will explain your filing options to you. This is your chance to give it a try. IRS e-file is approaching 1 billion returns processed safely and securely. If you owe taxes, you have payment options to file immediately and pay by the tax deadline. Best of all, combine e-file with direct deposit and you get your refund in as few as 10 days.

5. Consider other filing options: There are many different options for filing your tax return. You can prepare it yourself or go to a tax preparer. You may be eligible for free face-to-face help at an IRS office or volunteer site. Give yourself time to weigh all the different options and find the one that best suits your needs.

6. Consider Direct Deposit: If you elect to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you'll receive it faster than waiting for a paper check.

7. Visit the IRS website again and again: The official IRS website is a great place to find everything you'll need to file your tax return: forms, publications, tips, answers to frequently asked questions and updates on tax law changes,,id=118506,00.html

8. Remember this number: 17: Check out IRS Publication 17 . It's a comprehensive collection of information for taxpayers highlighting everything you'll need to know when filing your return.

9. Review! Review! Review! Don't rush. Be sure to double-check all the Social Security Numbers and math calculations on your return as these are the most common errors made by taxpayers.

10. Don't panic! If you run into a problem, remember the IRS is here to help. Try or call toll-free at 800-829-1040.

Remember, when seeking the assistance of a tax preparer, always get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check the BBB Business Review on tax preparation services at

For more advice on finding professionals you can trust and for filing your taxes accurately, visit and

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