The Better Business Bureau is offering advice if you are looking to donate to the families, wildlife and firefighters affected by the devastating wildfires in Australia.

It warns scammers often take advantage of these moments to deceive donors. People with good intentions who may or may not be connected to the tragedy also set up campaigns.

"Your Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance strongly encourage donors to research and contribute to experienced organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, particularly in the wake of disasters,” said Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “Experienced relief organizations are more likely to provide quick and effective assistance. Newly established entities may be well-intentioned, but may not have the skills and infrastructure to provide immediate help.”

The BBB offers the following advice to anyone interested in making a donation:

  • Investigate before you consider a crowdfunding donation. In the wake of a major disaster, thousands of crowdfunding postings quickly appear, which can include scams or poorly conceived fundraising projects. Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job of vetting postings and projects than others and they typically charge various processing fees that may reduce donation amounts. Review the crowdfunding site’s description of its terms and procedures and check to see who is behind the crowdfunding appeal to consider whether that person or group might legitimately represent the named charitable cause. See if the posting claims to help a specific individual/family/group or whether it claims to be passing on funds to a designated charity or charities. If a charity is named, consider making a direct donation to that organization, after checking them out, rather than relying on a third party to carry out your giving intentions.
  • Determine how funds will be used. Whether you donate to a crowdfunding request or directly to a charitable organization, vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should be a yellow caution light. For example, will the funds be used for firefighting activities, temporary housing for displaced families, food, medical expenses, reconstruction or other relief activities? Could donations be used for long-term recovery programs, or not? Thoughtful requests for funding will identify genuine disaster needs and response abilities, and communicate clearly about intended donation uses and plans for funding distributions.
  • Don’t assume pictures are used with permission. Unfortunately, some crowdfunding postings may be using pictures of victims without the permission of their families. As a result, you can’t assume the poster has an official connection. As a donor, it is up to you to approach with caution, especially after a disaster or tragedy.
  • Your contribution may not be deductible as a charitable gift. If a crowdfunding post or a charitable appeal is claiming to help a specific individual or family, donors in the U.S. generally cannot take a federal income tax deduction, even if the individual or family is in need. See IRS Publication 526, page 6, for more information on this subject. However, if you are giving to a charitable organization that is helping a group of needy individuals and you are not restricting your gift to a specific person, then you can generally take a deduction. Keep in mind, if the charity is not located in the U.S., in most cases a gift would not be deductible even though a charity is receiving the contribution.
  • Research Australian-based charities. If you’re considering donating to an Australian-based charity, check out the registry of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. While the registration with this government agency does not mean the government is recommending or endorsing the charity, it does signify that the group has filed the appropriate paperwork with this agency. There are also local Australian fire service entities known as “brigades” that accept donations to carry out various services. If you wish to support such entities, visit an official Australian government link such as the following: NSW Rural Fire Service. Be cautious about appeals from those claiming to raise funds for Australian firefighters without any official connection to them.