Donate to recognized charities you have given to before

Scam Alert - How to Give Wisely to Charity
Image: NCCC

In the wake of the devastation caused by the wildfires in California, people are opening their hearts and wallets to help. The federal government is advising that the best way to provide immediate assistance is to donate money directly to established relief organizations with the experience and means to deliver aid.

If you're thinking about the best ways to provide help to those affected by the wildfires, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, has the following tips to help you give wisely:

Donate to recognized charities you have given to before. Watch out for charities that have sprung up overnight. They may be well-meaning, but lack the infrastructure to provide assistance. And be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar, or internationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.

Give directly to the charity, not the solicitors for the charity. That's because solicitors take a portion of the proceeds to cover their costs, which leaves less for victim assistance.

Do not give out personal or financial information — including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers — to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you. Check out any charities before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at

Don't give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through charities.

Ask for identification if you're approached in person. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they're soliciting.