Shameless Katrina Scams

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 1, 2005; 8:49 AM

With so much news about devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, many people will feel compelled to donate to relief efforts. But please be very careful. The con artists are out already.

Caroline E. Mayer and Brian Krebs report in today's Washington Post that phony Web sites and scam e-mail messages are already floating around the Internet seeking donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. "Scammers Hit Web in Katrina's Wake."

An FBI official quoted in the story offered this advice: "People who want to make a donation or contribute to a cause should actively seek out reputable organizations and then contact them by telephone or by typing their Web address into a Web browser. The important point is that they initiate this contact on their own."

Before giving, call your local Better Business Bureau or charity registration office, which is usually a division of the state attorney general's office. Information on national charities is available from the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance at 800-575-4483 or www.give.org. washingtonpost.com has compiled a list of reputable relief organizations (scroll down to the "make a donation" section).

Free at Last, Free at Last

Starting today, consumers who live in the eastern United States are eligible to obtain copies of their credits reports for free. The program has been phased in geographically over the past year, and now people living in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all U.S. territories are eligible for the program.

The Post's Caroline E. Mayer wrote about the reports in today's paper -- "Order Free Credit Reports, Then Cross Your Fingers." She was online this morning to answer reader questions about the program. Read the transcript here.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, also known as the FACT Act, was passed to help consumers fight identity theft by giving them easier access to their credit files from the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Once every 12 months, you can obtain a free copy of your credit report upon request. I add that emphasis because you won't automatically be sent your credit reports; you have to ask for them.

There are several ways to get the reports:

* Online at www.annualcreditreport.com. This central site allows you to request a free credit report. Don't be fooled by imitators. This is the only site that is authorized by the federal government. You will go through a simple verification process to make sure you are, well, you.

* By phone at 1-877-322-8228. You will go through a simple verification process over the phone. Your reports will be mailed to you.

* By mail by filling out a request form (which you can find online here) and sending it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga., 30348-5281.


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