When Susan, a small business owner in San Rafael, received a well-written email from someone who identified herself as a successful developer from Belvedere and said she was working on the plight of shelter dogs, she perked up. Being a dog lover herself, Susan was interested to learn more.

The email was soon followed by several phone calls.

“The caller said she’d spent a lot of money at my business, was well-connected and was starting a ‘Canine Housing Campaign’ on behalf of Marin Humane,” Susan says. “She told a convoluted story that involved her trying to set up a 501(c)(3) but that it was too cumbersome and ‘time was running out for the thousands of dogs in need.’ She really knew how to tug at my heartstrings, so against my better judgment, I made a check out to her personally, with her guarantee that it would be presented to Marin Humane.”

It will come to no reader’s surprise that this was a scam, one targeted to several businesses, large and small, in Marin. All scams are awful but there is something particularly heartless about those perpetrated against people who are trying to help animals or people.

Sadly, scams related to charitable giving also pop up as soon as there’s any sort of well-publicized crisis or emergency. The situation in Ukraine is no different, with people and groups soliciting donations for those affected, including animals.

When it comes to international animal welfare causes, Marin Humane is happy to provide guidance where it can based on its knowledge of and connections to well-vetted, solid organizations. In Ukraine, for example, the work of the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Humane Society International is impressive and well-documented.

So, how do you avoid scams when you’re looking to donate for a cause? According to Charity Navigator, you should consider the following:

• Is the organization a registered public 501(c)(3) organization? Ask the charity what their EIN or employer identification number is. If they don’t have one, don’t donate. Once they give you their EIN, you can find them on the Charity Navigator site.

• Do you know what the organization’s mission, goals and history of success is? If a charity struggles to answer these questions, consider giving elsewhere.

• Is their website legit? It’s not enough to simply have a website. After disasters in particular, scammers are likely to set up fake websites claiming to be a charity. These often have photos that are particularly compelling (after all, nothing gets to an animal lover’s heart more quickly than a photo of an innocent animal in danger). Make sure you can find the nonprofit’s EIN somewhere on their website or donation page to know that the money is going to the right place. Most nonprofits also have a .org website rather than a .com.

• If it’s an individual seeking a donation on behalf of an organization, like Susan mentioned earlier, never give them money directly. Instead, ask for the organization’s information, do your research and then donate through their official channels.

We’re an incredibly charitable county, which is something to be proud of. Unfortunately, it also means we’re ripe pickings for unscrupulous people. Let’s all keep giving when we can — after we’ve done our homework.