How to make sure your donations help fire victims not scammers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- So many of us feel helpless watching the devastation to our friends and neighbors caught in the North Bay wildfires. Already hundreds of crowdfunding sites are set up. You may also be getting calls and emails asking for donations. But are they legitimate? The Better Business Bureau's Rebecca Harpster says watch out. Con artists know you want to help and they will try to intercept your donations.

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"Unfortunately, scammers really do try to take advantage of people's generosity especially in times of disaster, Harpster said.

that's why we really recommend it's important to do your reserach you know don't jump at the first thing."

Harpster says don't respond to phone solicitations. Instead, contact a charity directly to be sure it's legitimate. Also if you get an email solicitation, do not click on any links. They may be phishing attempts to get your personal information and bank account numbers. Or they may be installing malware into your computer. Again, contact the charity directly-- but not before you check out that charity.

" So you type in give-dot-org " Harpster said, showing us the BBB's website. It tells you if a charity is legitimate, rating them on two dozen factors for accountability. Also, use to check out a charity. It will also let you know which ones are raising money for a particular cause.

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Also, Harpster says check out crowdfunding sites carefully. While most are likely to be legitimate, con artists sometimes pretend to be raising money for a victim, but really keep the money for themselves.

"Fraudulent crowdfunding sites aren't actually connected to a real victim. " she says. "Don't be afraid to ask questions and if the organizer of the campaign is hesitant to answer questions, that's a red flag. "

Scammers may use real pictures and stories to put up fake campaign sites. It's best to donate only if you know the campaign organizer personally

The two charity checkers will not only tell you if a group is legitimate, they rate them for effectiveness. You can tell for example how much of their donations go to the actual victims instead of other expenses like administration.

Click here for more information from the Better Business Bureau.

Click here to browse Charity Navigator.
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