How to spot scammers taking advantage of Harvey donations

As the world watches the events in Houston unfold, many of them will find themselves reaching into their wallets to send people help the only they can, by sending money.

But people must take caution. Times like these when people feel the need to give most, make givers most vulnerable to scams.

Scammers are at the ready to take advantage of people with big hearts.

Celebrities, musicians, Hollywood hot shots are all making pleas, launching challenges and digging deep to help Houston, a place struggling with flooding following the category 4 hurricane Harvey.

Before people make donations, they must know who they are dealing with online, on phone or in person.

"I've been doing this for almost 30 years now and like clockwork, they will come out of the woodwork, the scammers," said Steve Bernas, CEO of Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Most of them will show up online. And according to Bernas, a BBB study last year showed that millennials supersede the elderly in terms of who is falling victim to scams

"...Because the internet opened up the world at your fingertips," said Bernas.

The BBB cautions people to check and double check the URL being accessed. One wrong letter, one misplaced word in the address and people might be sending their donations to a crook and they'd never know it.

BBB also suggests people make their online donations with a credit card because they have about three months to dispute the charge or put in a complaint with the BBB, the Illinois AG or the Federal Trade Commission.

In past disasters, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to name a few, millions of dollars were stolen by scammers preying on the generous and goodhearted.

Here's what to do to make your donation gets in the right hands:

  • Any organization you are dealing with, you want to check on them, in Google or any other search engine. Put in their name and the word "scam" next to it to see what comes up.
  • Give to Give.Org or CharityNavigator.org to make sure the charity of your choice is for real.

Here's what not to do:

  • Never wire money
  • Never click on a link posted on Facebook or in an Email, too easy for third party scammers to intercept.

The BBB says the online bad guys are typically sophisticated criminals from across the pond. They can open and close fraudulent sites online easily and often and they don't play by laws in the U.S.

In most cases, a costly mistake made from your own home for all the right reasons maybe one you have to live with, because when you get swindled, you may never know it.

Crowd sourcing, while gaining in popularity, may also not be as safe as you think. Too many frauds watching and waiting for the next online group to gather rip people off.

The number one scam this summer: the IRS scam.