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Watch out for bogus charities during and after wildfires

The Better Business Bureau is urging citizens to be on the lookout for scam artists posing as charitable organizations claiming they want to help victims of destructive wildfires.

So far, no false charities or bogus representatives have been reported to the agency in the wake of a recent round of wildfires that have rocked the state, but officials say they hope to get out in front of the problem instead of advising caution after the fact.

"We wanted to just kind of warn people ahead of time and say, 'Take this time to be very vigilant,' " said Sophie Dichter, Oregon BBB public relations manager. "We haven't seen a specific instance that's happened so far, so that's the good news."

But as mop-up efforts for the Oregon Gulch fire press forward, officials say to be on the lookout for scams.

The fire is the fifth-largest wildfire in Oregon right now and the largest in the Southern Oregon region, according to the Incident Information System website. It roared to life on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument's eastern boundary July 30 and burned east toward Klamath County and south across the Oregon-California border, destroying six homes along the way.

Anyone wanting to help people displaced by the flames should not be discouraged from doing so, Dichter said. As with any charitable donation, just do it wisely.

Bureau officials say to be skeptical of "high-pressure" tactics, such as requests that your donation be made immediately. Givers should also stick with qualified charities like the American Red Cross, which have the resources to distribute disaster relief funds efficiently. Cash donations should be avoided, and credit card numbers should never be given over the telephone. Check-writers should make out their check directly to the charity, not to an individual or particular fundraising event.

"Sometimes (scammers) will say they're from a credible source," Dichter said. "Take that extra step."

People should also be on the watch for emails and social-media requests from fake victims or fake memorial accounts.

For more information and a list of accredited charities, see www.bbb.org or www.give.org.