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Make sure your money aids Haiti

By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

NEW YORK (CNN) -- As pictures and video of the devastation in Haiti rolls in, individual donations are soaring. To make sure your contribution makes the most impact, we have some tips for you.

First, let's take a look at what organizations individual donations are going to. AmeriCares estimates people have contributed $2.5 million dollars. Catholic Relief Services says individuals have donated $4.9 million. Oxfam reports receiving $3.2 million, while the Red Cross has raised $7 million and Unicef has received $6 million from individual donors.

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Other organizations have raised large sums including Mercy Corp., $2.5 million, outpacing funds raised for Hurricane Katrina. World Vision has raised $4.34 million -- individuals gave $3.94 million of that amount with an average donation of $219.

But you do have to be wary of scam artists taking advantage of people's generosity.

Be skeptical of people who represent themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites. Often scammers will insert keywords, like Haiti or earthquake into their sites to trick you into thinking they're legitimate.

Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

You can research the charity you're interested in at Guidestar.org, check out the charity ratings at CharityNavigator.org or go to the wise giving alliance of the Better business bureau at bbb.org/charity.

The charities that are going to be the most effective right now are the ones that have been around a while: those charities with the experience, resources and planning capabilities to assist people. Go to their Web site and make sure they're detailing their efforts.

Unless the charity already has staff in Haiti, it may be difficult to get new aid workers in place to quickly provide assistance.

Be wary of claims that 100% of donations will assist victims says the Better Business Bureau. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Here's how you can help now.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Are you planning on donating? To top of page

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