April 19, 2013, 12:53 PM

Online scammers will exploit the Boston bombings, experts say

More than 100 sites related to the attack have been registered.

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Consumers heading online to donate to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings should do their homework before sending money, law enforcement and charity experts say.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office says that at least 125 web site domain names related to the bombings have been registered since the Monday attack. That doesn’t mean operators of all those sites are trying to steal money from gullible consumers—honest entrepreneurs and others often snap up topical sites in the hours after a major event—but experts caution would-be donators to keep up their guard.

“After every major tragedy, there seems to be no shortage of criminals that will be tempted to take advantage of the public’s generosity,” says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing and chief financial officer for Charity Navigator, which helps consumers evaluate charities. “Criminals will appeal to the donor’s heart with pictures and compelling stories, which often get unsuspecting donors to lead with their heart and forget to do their due diligence.”

Miniutti advises consumers to check out charities at such sites as CharityNavigator.org, which ranks 6,000 major charities and offers links to the web sites of legitimate organizations. Google searches of charities, or links found on social media or e-mails, may lead to sites operated by criminals.

The problem of bogus charity sites is unlikely to decrease, says Miniutti and H. Art Taylor, chairman of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, another charity-evaluation group. “Social media, in particular, makes it easy to reach a lot of people quickly, when emotions are running high and people feel the need to take action,” he says. As well, the technology for setting up bogus charity sites is easy and inexpensive, experts say.

Experts also give these other tips for finding legitimate charity sites:

• Check that other legitimate sites link to the site

• See if the site is registered with state authorities, such as the attorney general’s office.

• According to the Massachusetts attorney general, “be wary of appeals that are long on emotion. A legitimate charity will tell you how it's using your money to address this horrific disaster.”

The overlap of nonprofits and e-commerce is the subject of a daylong workshop at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2013 .

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