BBB Offers Advice for Donating to Wildfire Relief

October 12, 2017


SAN JOSE – With wildfires raging through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, scammers and unethical organizations are upping their game, preying on victims and on the public’s generosity.

BBB traditionally gets reports of fraudulent charities soliciting donations and crowdfunding appeals that fail to help victims. These tips will help you donate wisely to those affected by the Northern California fires:

  • Be cautious when giving online, especially in response to spam messages, emails and social media pages that claim to link to a relief organization. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website.
  • Get expert opinions when evaluating a charity. Don’t just rely on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites; they may not have fully researched the organizations. Check out charities and relief organizations at and verify that they are accredited by BBB and meet its 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Charities have administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.
  • Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs
  • Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may raise money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to give directly to those that have a presence in the region. At a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see if they’re equipped to provide aid effectively.
  • Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
  • A word on crowdfunding sites. If you’re thinking of donating to a crowdfunding site, make sure to ask questions. If the organizer is not responsive or not willing to offer a lot of detail, that is a red flag. Crowdfunding websites require varying degrees of information in order for appeals to be set up, and may take down fundraising pages when questions are raised that can’t be substantiated. However, those requirements alone won’t prevent all fraud. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it’s best to give to people you personally know. Crowdfunding campaigns can do a lot of good and raise a lot of money, but do your homework before contributing.


If you encounter any scams, make sure to report them to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.