The Fine Line Between Charity and Self-Promotion

Opinion: A Florida authentication company is offering its service for free to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Is this generosity or taking advantage of a tragedy to get free publicity? It's often impossible to tell. (

The most altruistic gift is an anonymous contribution, in which a giver wants to help but does not want to benefit from the donation.

Sometimes, though, anonymity is not possible, and thats where things can get dicey.

Last week, for example, a Fort Lauderdale authentication firm announced that it was offering its service free to anyone who wanted to use it to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Why would an authentication service help out in flood recovery? A lot of the victims had to flee their homes and they lost identification documents (birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, Visas, etc.).

They are often in that government Catch-22: to get new copies of their documents, they need to prove that they are who they are, which is difficult to do if their documents have been destroyed.

President Bush has announced a plan to make that easier for flood victims, but how easy it will be isnt clear, and theres no indication that policy will be universal.

Lets say a victim wants their cell phone or credit card company to send them a replacement. They often cant let them ship it to the address on record because that address might have been destroyed.

When a consumer asks for phones or identification documents sent to an address that is not on file, companies get legitimately nervous and want further proof of identity.

Theres also another problem. Those abandoned houses have tons of identification documents in them.

Whether documents are stolen by looters or found literally floating down the street, identify theft becomes a very real risk. And that makes the cell phone companies and the banks even more suspicious.

/zimages/6/28571.gifWhen it comes to protecting credit card payments, "fixed" isnt good enough. To read more, click here.

Even worse, some bank chains are asking consumers who have lost their checks to pick up new checks at their local branch.

However, a lot of local bank branches have been washed away, along with the million-or-so people who have been displaced.

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Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internets Enterprise Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop anytime soon. He can be reached at

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