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You can help victims of Hurricane Harvey, but beware of scams

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Better Business Bureau is issuing a nation-wide alert as scammers try to get your money in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

It's a despicable money grab by thieves looking to access your wallet by way of your heart.

You've got to be smart, trust your gut, and resist their urgent pleas.

Within hours of the storm, the BBB says scammers came out of the woodwork.

Click here to see what should act as a charity scam red flag.

"It's like Whack-A-Mole, says Communications Director Kelsey Coleman. "They're everywhere and they're spreading on social media."

Coleman says the Better Business Bureau is inundated with reports.

"Scammers aren't just going to be targeting people in Texas,” says Coleman, “they're going to be looking to get everyone across the nation."

You can also check out non-profit charities at Charity Navigators and GuideStar and Give.org. You can view reports on most charities by typing in the name. They also have lists of charities for the crisis in Texas. (See below)

And one of the biggest traps: crowd funding for hurricane relief.

The BBB is cautioning social media users to make sure they know the original source before reposting or retweeting.

"If you know the person posting this crowdfunding site, you might assume it's legit, but these crowdfunding sites don't actually vet people who are posting this plea for money. So it's very important if you're going to participate in crowd funding site or plea, make sure you know the person who's doing the plea."

One post that’s on the BBB’s radar and has gone viral claims to be a phone number for Texans needing help, but instead it's just a scam by an insurance company looking for business.

Criminals may also be hiding behind mobile donation pleas.

Watch for typos, and for charity names that are similar to credible, familiar non-profit organizations.

Most charities say you can best help by donating money. Donating directly through a website gets money to a charity faster than a text donation, if you know it’s a legitimate website.

The Red Cross counts on financial donations to help with immediate relief. You can text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Or visit redcross.org or call 1- 800-RED CROSS.

And if you're going to donate, use a credit card or a check, as you're more likely to have recourse with your bank if it turns out to be a scam.

“The BBB is really encouraging people to take your time, donate but donate wisely in this situation."

The best bet, says Coleman: Go to Give.org. This is a list of charitable organizations that you can trust. They’ve been vetted by the Better Business Bureau and are on the ground in Texas, helping residents pull things back together.

Seniors, the disabled, children, and even pets are particularly vulnerable during disasters. Consider donating to charities that focus on addressing their needs.

If you want to give to a local charity, Charity Navigators recommends Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, Houston Humane Society, or San Antonio Humane Society.

Other organizations in the local areas that are highly rated by Charity Navigators include:

All Hands Volunteers

American Red Cross

Americares

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Convoy of Hope

Direct Relief

GlobalGiving

International Relief Teams

Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago

MAP International

Matthew 25: Ministries

Samaritan's Purse

Save the Children

St. Bernard Project

The following is a list of BBB Accredited Charities raising funds for Hurricane Harvey relief. Each meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability:

American Red Cross

AmeriCares

Church World Service

Direct Relief

GlobalGiving Foundation

Humane Society of the United States

Islamic Relief USA

MAP International

Operation USA

Salvation Army

Save the Children

United Methodist Committee on Relief

United Way of Greater Houston

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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