© Franz Perc/Demotix/Corbis

© Franz Perc/Demotix/Corbis

You may have seen or read stories about the plight of refugees from the Syrian civil war, which has displaced millions of people. The refugees need much aid, and many people who have seen the suffering are contributing to charities that are doing wonderful work.

In fact, it is heartening to see so many people donating to charity to help their fellow man. Keep in mind, though, it is not just legitimate charities seeking donations, but also scam artists who are always ready to take advantage of the generosity of people following natural and man-made disasters.

So what can you do to make sure your contribution does not go to a scammer?

Be wary of telemarketers seeking charitable contributions. Know this: You can never be certain a call purporting to come from a charity is legitimate. Even if you have Caller ID and it indicates the call is coming from a charity you recognize, a scammer can use a technique called “spoofing” to fool your caller ID and make it appear the call is from a trusted source.

Never give your credit card number over the phone to anyone who calls you unless you are absolutely sure you know who they are. In this case, you can never be sure.

Email and text message solicitations for charities are particularly risky because they may contain a link for you to click on in order to make your charitable contribution. Scammers send out these email or text messages with keystroke-logging malware that will be downloaded to your computer if you click on the link. Once downloaded, the malware enables the scammer to steal all of the information from your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Even if you protect your computer and other electronic devices with the latest anti-malware and anti-virus software, you are still vulnerable. It takes at least a month for the security software companies to issue patches for the newest versions of malware.

If you think you’ve fallen victim to one of these scams, you need to check your credit reports frequently for unfamiliar credit inquiries and open loans you never applied for. Get your report for free at myBankrate.

How to investigate a charity

Charitynavigator.org is a great resource that allows you to investigate any charity — for free. Not only will Charity Navigator tell you whether the charity is a scam, it will also tell you how much of the money you give is used for charitable works and how much goes to pay salaries and administrative costs.

As a rule of thumb, a legitimate charity will not spend more than 25% to 33% of what it collects on administrative costs.

Legitimate charities for Syrian aid

As for the Syrian crisis, some of the well established and highly rated charities working to aid those in need are the American Refugee Committee, Convoy of Hope, GlobalGiving, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran World Relief, Mercy Corps and Save the Children.

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, a professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, author of “Identity Theft Alert” and editor of the blog scamicide.com.