Watching the fires burning in north central Washington, it's easy to feel helpless. But, be careful: scammers are ready to take advantage of your sympathy.

Over the weekend, we received countless calls and messages into the newsroom from people wanting to help. Right now, the evacuation centers have more food and clothes than they can handle and organizations like the Red Cross recommend you send money instead. They can often buy items at a cheaper price and can stretch your donation even further. What you really have to watch out for are home-grown donation drives. Not everyone has the best intentions.

The Washington Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau have some suggestions to keep from getting scammed.

  • Be suspicious of solicitors requesting immediate donations. If they're rushing you, trust your gut. Something probably doesn't add up.
  • Watch for solicitations on social media - and, even door-to-door - requesting money for individual victims. If you donate to a personal bank account or a gofundme site, you cannot dictate where that money goes.
  • Never give your credit card number over the phone. You're better off using a secure website.
  • Make sure the charity to which you're donating is qualified to help with that specific type of disaster.

The Better Business Bureau has a website that allows you to check out any charity before donating. You can also read more from the Washington Attorney General's Office here.

The bottom line? Trust your instincts and don't let your kind heart overpower your gut.