Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Power Plant Charity Scams

Every time there is a natural disaster, like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, scammers try to take advantage of your generosity by create fake aid web sites. The Federal Trade Commission is advising consumers to be cautious of potential charity scams in the wake of the earthquake that rocked Japan's northeast coast and triggered a widespread tsunami last week, causing the nuclear power plants to fail.


The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, is warning consumers to carefully consider urgent appeals for aid that they receive in person, by phone or mail, by email, on websites, or on social networking sites, like Facebook.  Many of these look real, but are fakes, designed to put your money in the hands of Nigerian scammers, not Japanese victims.

The FTC's Charity Checklist advises you about how to donate safely to leginitmate charities.  If you are asked to contribute to a charity, the FTC recommends that you:

  • Ask for the name of the charity if the telemarketer does not provide it promptly;
  • Ask what percentage of your donation will support the cause described in the solicitation;
  • Verify that the charity has authorized the solicitation;
  • Do not provide any credit card or bank information until you have reviewed all information from the charity and made the decision to donate;
  • Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax deductible; and
  • Avoid cash gifts. For security and tax record purposes, it's best to pay by check - made payable to the beneficiary, not the solicitor.

For more information about how you can help disaster victims in Japan, visit the U.S. Agency for International Development website.

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a new video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Sample Scam Email:

February 14, 2011, CFR received the following email:




If you receive a call from this number or any group that claims to represent a government agency, take down their information, including the contact's name, phone number, etc. Do NOT give them any personal or financial information, especially not a credit card, checking or bank account number, passport number, etc.

Next, look up the direct phone or email address for the agency they claim to represent and call them.  Read them the email and ask if it could have come from their agency.

For a comprehensive list of national and international agencies to report scams, see this page.