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The impulse to help; Residents will dig deep for Japan, but ensure that charities are real

This nation's collective heart goes out to those suffering the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami. For Western New Yorkers, especially, who are so used to giving and helping one another, the aftermath of these natural events resonates.

The fallout from damage to nuclear power plants has Japanese officials warning of an alarming radiation leak and imploring people near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant along Japan's northeastern coast to stay indoors and avoid becoming sick.

The world has been watching closely the events of the past few days. In virtually every city and town, there must be someone who has either a loved one or friend who lives in Japan, or was visiting. Numerous flights taking Americans back home during this disaster could be seen on nighttime television news.

Undoubtedly, this is the worst tragedy to hit Japan since the World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands are missing and believed dead. Few could ever imagine the scale and degree to which a force of nature could slam into an industrialized country.

It's not only the immediate shock of lost lives and injuries but uncertainty about what comes next, as scattered families suffer without enough food or warmth. Families are dealing with the sudden loss of their loved ones while trying to survive.

The world community has responded and, to the degree to which is possible, it has been effective. The American Red Cross has acted as one of the vehicles through which donations can be made, in addition to numerous large corporate donations. In times of crisis, any and all in-kind and monetary donations make a huge impact.

And in that spirit, it is also important to be careful to make sure that those doing the soliciting are legitimate. There have been reports that scam artists are already trying to take advantage of people's compassion.

An example of one fraudulent scheme involves an e-mail claiming to be from the British Red Cross requesting that recipients looking to make Japan aid donations do so through wire transfer. Legitimate charities do not make requests for wire transfers.

Additionally, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has offered tips to those wishing to donate to the relief effort:

* Give to established charities.

* Research charities -- the attorney general's website, www.charitiesnys.com -- offers financial reports. Or ask the charity directly for its reports.

Other helpful websites that can be used to evaluate charities include:

* American Institute of Philanthropy -- www.charitywatch.org

* Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance -- www.bbb.org

* Charity Navigator -- www.charitynavigator.org

* GuideStar -- www.guidestar.org

Western New Yorkers stand up for their neighbors, even when they're a world away.

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