The solution to not getting taken in by scams is simple: don't give money. (In any case, NEVER give anything beyond what you yourself can afford. You're not helping anyone else by putting yourself in the hole.) But if no one gave money that they could afford to any of the assorted disasters talked about online, for fear of a scam, there would be people in needless difficulty.
ataniell93 has mentioned in the past that she prefers to give money directly to a trustworthy charity, when people are soliciting donations for a particular disaster-related cause online. There's very little way of telling where the money is actually going when it's an individual effort with no paper trail; there's more assurance that the money has gone to help those in need when it's given to an organized charity.
This made me think about how one would go about verifying a particular veterinary case. One would, as city_glitter's now-former friend did, call up the clinic in question and check and see that there was such an animal there, and that they were suffering from such a condition. But in the case of a popular thing like the infamous "my cat was set on fire" incident here, it would take up a great amount of administrative time on the clinic's end to answer all the phone calls -- and not everyone is willing to afford long-distance calls. It would also take a larger amount of administrative time to process multiple micro-pay donations from across the globe.
"What we need," I thought in the shower, "is for vets to simply start accepting PayPal."
Then my mind made the leap. That wouldn't, after all, be much better than just doing checks, cards, and cash -- there would still be an immense amount of administrative work for a relatively small vet bill being split up with multiple payers.
What about a VetPal website? Veterinary clinics verified by VetPal to be on the up-and-up (doing this would take some legwork, but it would be easier than verifying each individual case) could post their charity cases to VetPal; VetPal could list information such as animal name, city, state, and zip code of the clinic, clinic name, ailment of the patient, species of patient, description (perhaps photo?) and case number.
(Obviously, some people would not want to fill in all this information for privacy reasons.) VetPal would also show current charges for the critter's account, and how much had been paid into it so far. (This, to avoid people attempting to over-pay the account.) VetPal would not allow overpayment (on the tech end of it, you'd lock that record when the first donor submitted their attempt to pay, and not unlock it until the transaction was done processing, and then the next person would be informed if their attempt to pay would wind up overpaying).
I actually have absolutely no clue how VetPal would wind up paying for itself. It would have to pay fees for hosting, possibly partnership fees to PayPal (I'm thinking it would take PayPal, because that's the common online payment method; other methods could be discussed/negotiated), and there would be some administrative costs associated with verifying that each vet clinic was in fact legit. Ad banners might not cover it. Possibilities include taking a very thin percentage from each donation, or a very thin flat fee from each donation, and using that to cover costs, and use any overage to donate to a) all cases, b) cases in most need, c) a randomly selected case, d) a popularly selected case. Other possibilities: charging clinics to register, charging individuals to be listed (seems counterproductive), asking for donations to cover the site (from individuals and/or other animal charities).
Utter vaporware, of course, but it's something that fits the times.