By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/7/2005 7:59:03 PM ET 2005-01-08T00:59:03

The fund-raising effort is unprecedented — from telethons to cash collections, clothing drives and relief supplies — $4 billion has been pledged globally.

But where is the money really going? Finding that out is the job of several Web sites that rank charities for their ability to channel the money to the people who need it.

Among them:

The motto at the AIP is, quite simply, "Follow the money."

"We're looking at how efficient they are at raising money," says AIP President Daniel Borochoff. "It shouldn't cost them more than $35 to raise $100."

Among those charities earning an "A": Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross — which gets an "A+," with $92 out of every $100 going to tsunami victims.

Red Cross President Marti Evans says the remaining $8 pays for getting the aid where it needs to go.

"But it's direct support costs that we're taking," says Evans. "Not overhead for this building, lights in this building, the power, things like that."

Not all charities grade quite so well.

In South Carolina, Secretary of State Mark Hammonds has created an Internet database of 6,000 charities, listing the best and the worst.

"We ask that they check it out before they write the check," says Hammonds.

Now, with fully half of all donations coming online, criminals are tapping into the generosity with some 3.5 million fraudulent e-mails each day asking well-meaning donors for money or bank account information — often creating links to fake Web sites that look like legitimate charities.

"I can't emphasize enough — do not respond," says Peter Burns, the cyber crime section chief for the FBI. "Do not even open an unsolicited e-mail that purports to request money or personal information. Anything that comes to you like that, which you haven't asked for, I would treat as suspect."

But from the Red Cross comes a promise that donations will be spent wisely.

"The foods needs, the sheltering needs; we'll be addressing medical care needs, disease prevention, water sanitation," says Red Cross President Evans.

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