The Curry Coastal Pilot

As we learn more about the scope of the tragedy that has happened in Japan, it's natural that caring people should want to help. But when we open our hearts andndash; and wallets andndash; we have to be sure that we're helping through legitimate channels. Unfortunately, there are already reports of scam artists posing as Japan disaster relief charities.

"While many legitimate organizations are seeking donations to aid victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan," says Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, "thieves are sending e-mails, making phone calls, and posting fake video footage on social media sites to steal money and personal information."

In short: Be careful!

Certainly, if you can offer help andndash; to relief efforts here at home, in Japan, or anywhere else around the world andndash; please do so. There are people in dire need who can use your help.

But be sure you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Clearly, you can trust well-known agencies such as American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Many organizations have their own trusted systems of raising aid for relief, such as The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

If you do not know a supposed agency, ask for written materials and time to check out the agency's background. Any legitimate group will be willing to wait, and not make any demands on you until you are satisfied they are real.

And absolutely ignore individual requests for help, whether they come by phone, e-mail, social media or regular mail. Unless you know the person who is asking, hang up, hit delete or throw it in the trash.

Finally, be as careful with your personal information as you are with our cash.

Oregonians reported losses of more than $2 million to scams last year. Please be sure you don't add to that total.