Avoid tornado disaster charity fraud

Before you give money to help with tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma, find out what kind of help the charity is providing.

Some charities only focus on temporary shelter. Some concentrate on providing food and water. Others are working on medical assistance. Some charities need money for long-term rebuilding, while others specialize in simply raising money for other charities.

And in some cases you may be giving money to phony charities that have no intention of helping anyone because they're not charities at all. You'll end up empty handed, and so will the people you want to help.

Within days of the Boston marathon bombings, more than 100 new websites were registered as charities. Many were scams. After the grade school shootings in Newton, Connecticut, someone set up p a fake "Funeral Fund" page on Facebook.

Police arrested a New York woman for allegedly posing as a murdered student's relative and pocketing the cash. And remember Hurricane Sandy's devastation along the Jersey shore last October? A New Jersey couple is accused of forming a fake relief charity and pocketing more than 600 thousand dollars.

To keep your charity donations from going to scammers, use the non-profit website "Charity Navigator" as a starting point to check out different charities and find out where your donations really go.

Charity Navigator shows you how much of your money actually gets to the charity program, versus administration and marketing. The website currently lists more than a dozen "real" charities taking donations for Oklahoma tornado relief, including the American Red Cross.

Keep in mind, donations to the national Red Cross are directed to overall disaster relief wherever assistance is most needed unless you specify a particular disaster on the memo section of your check. The Red Cross says if total donations have exceeded what's needed for a specific disaster, donations designated for that disaster may be used for other relief efforts

You can also elect to donate to a specific local Red Cross chapter, in which case the money will go wherever it's most needed in that community.