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If you are asked to give cash immediately or wire money, recognize this as a major red flag and steer clear.

Whenever there’s a disaster or tragedy at home, another state, or abroad, many of us feel an overwhelming desire to act. Since it’s not usually feasible or even safe for everyone to go to the site of the event, giving a donation is among the most pragmatic actions we can take.

However, an unfortunate reality of situations like these is fraudsters using the misfortunes of others to take advantage of your generosity and goodwill. For instance, the FBI found 15 fake fundraising websites after Hurricane Katrina and during Super Storm Sandy’s aftermath, one fraudulent website raised $600,000, according to Forbes.

Avoid getting duped. Before making your donation, consider these dos and don’ts of giving. That way you can be sure your donation goes where you intended it to go — to help the communities who need it most.

Don’t be fooled by look-alike charities.

When giving online, double check the website’s URL (also known as a web address). Sometimes fraudsters will use URLs with a slight variation to a reputable charity’s name. Not only will your donation be intercepted, they’ll also get access to your card number and personal information. Only visit websites that are verified as safe.

Do research a charity before making any donation.

The Better Business Bureau and IRS maintain a list of safe charities. You can also visit organization websites to research their credentials, including their headquarters, boards of directors and how funds are used. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and pay extra close attention to charities whose names are oddly similar to the names of more well-known organizations.

Don’t fall prey to requests for specific payment methods.

If you’re asked to give cash immediately or wire money, recognize this as a major red flag and steer clear. Reputable charities aren’t going to pressure you to make a donation on the spot, and they can accept checks and credit cards in addition to cash.

Do safeguard your accounts.

While it’s difficult to eliminate the risk of fraudulent activity, there are steps you can take to help you keep a watchful eye on your accounts. Check your statements regularly and report any suspicious activity immediately. Sign up for free eAlerts through FAIRWINDS Online and be notified in real-time about account activity.

Don’t donate on crowdfunding sites without extreme caution.

If you’re able to verify a crowdfunding site because you have a direct or personal connection to the recipient, then making your donation is less risky. However, sometimes these sites are set up by individuals who are using the situation for their own monetary gain. Be safe. Find a trustworthy organization to donate to, instead of giving directly to a person you don’t know.

Do give monetary donations.

Having concerns that your money won’t be used for disaster relief, may tempt you to send tangible items. However, situations evolve quickly during a disaster’s immediate aftermath. So one of the best gifts is money, even if it’s just a few dollars. That’s because money is flexible and fast. It can be used to purchase whatever supplies are needed or required at any given moment — making your contribution go further. Once the situation stabilizes, charities will put out calls for specific items like clothing and food, so you know exactly what is needed and you can give appropriately.

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