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money.jpgSince it looks like San Francisco isn’t going to be washed into the Pacific Ocean, we can all breathe a little easier and turn our attention to Japan, where the real devastation took place. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of the island nation on Friday was one of the strongest ever recorded. While the country’s strict building codes saved countless lives, hundreds of people are dead or missing and there’s untold damage to the areas in northeastern Japan closest to the quake’s epicenter.

While there’s a natural inclination to help in situations like these, it’s important to keep in mind that just as disasters bring out the best in humanity, they also bring out the worst. Scammers looking to take advantage of good Samaritans’ loose purse strings abound after any disaster and this one is sure to be no different. Scams started to spread across Facebook and other social networking sites only minutes after the quake struck.

That said, the preponderance of people looking to take advantage of the tragedy shouldn’t stop anyone from donating. If anything, it should encourage people to donate more in that knowledge that some of their fellow do-gooders’ cash will doubtlessly end up in the pockets of people who don’t deserve it. If you decide to donate to an earthquake-related charity, its important to take some precautions before you give. As a result of the fraudulent activity that sprang up online after the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti last year, there’s now a rigorous set of safeguards in place for people to follow when giving to a disaster relief effort.

The easiest way to make sure your donation is going to someplace legitimate is to give to a long-standing international aid organization like the Red Cross, which is on standby to assist its Japanese counterparts, and has a warehouse in nearby Malaysia that is fully stocked with supplies if its help is needed, said Caitlin Cobb of the organization’s Bay Area chapter.

The Red Cross has set up a fund for Bay Area residents to donate to the disaster response effort, Cobb said.

Those wishing to donate can visit the organization’s website at or call (888) 4HELPBAY.

The Salvation Army is also responding to the disaster, which most badly damaged the city of Sendai, about 250 miles from Tokyo, according to the organization.

The Salvation Army has nearly 1,000 employees working throughout Japan and is also seeking donations for the response.

To donate, visit the organization’s website at, call (800) SAL-ARMY, or text the word “Quake” or “Japan” to 80888 to donate $10.

Material goods are not being requested at this point in the relief effort because of the logistical challenges of shipping and distributing the items, Salvation Army officials said.

However, there are doubtlessly going to be a large number of lesser-known organizations doing good work without the same universal name recognition. Before donating to an organization, do a little research on the websites of the Better Business Bureau or Even if you think you recognize the name of the charity, it’s still smart to do a quick search because shady organizations often take names similar to those of well-respected aid groups.

Treat any spam email or Facebook message requesting money or asking you to download an attachment (such as a picture of the devastation) the same way you would non-charity based spam. They’re likely trying to steal your password so just delete it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The person on the other end of your correspondence (be it on email or over the phone) should be able to tell you basic information about the name, address and phone number of the organization. Charities are expected to know how much of your donation will go directly to people in need. Good non-profits generally welcome these type of questions so use common sense. If something seems fishy, it probably is.

Being smart about giving shouldn’t equal being too scared to give. There are lots of legitimate ways for your money to get to the earthquake’s victims, here are some more (know of others? Let’s hear them in the comments!)

Global Giving’s Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund

Network for Good: Help Survivors of Japan Quake & Tsunami

Via Eater,Ichi Sushi will donate a portion of tonight’s sales to the disaster relief efforts in Japan. They’ll also accept cash donations for the Red Cross. Ebisu will donate a portion of lunch and dinner profits for all three locations for an entire week to earthquake relief. “

Also, don’t go in the water for the rest of the day. I don’t care how “tasty” the waves look, frolicking in the surf probably isn’t going to end well.

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