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ST. LOUIS (KSDK) – At least 35 people are dead and tens of thousands are displaced after unprecedented torrential rain and flooding have ravaged the Balkans.

We know that many of you are looking for ways to help, so we spoke to Chris Thetford from the Better Business Journal about ways to make sure you're giving to a legitimate charity.

In the case of Bosnian flood relief, he says many communities will not have the time to start the process of appealing for help. Here are some of his pieces of advice:

  • Rely on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The BBB provides a Wise Giving Guide to charities at www.bbb.org/charity. The guide shows which charities are accredited by the BBB and whether they meet the BBB's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fund-raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.

  • Be cautious when giving online to unfamiliar charities. Be wary of spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. After the tsunami disaster in 2004 and the earthquake in Haiti last year, many websites and organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims turned out to be scams.
  • Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity's website clearly describes what it can do to address immediate needs.
  • Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middleman and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
  • Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations may not be appropriate. Unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
  • For more information about charities or to get a BBB Business Review, check with the BBB at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
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