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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged Californians to open their hearts to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but cautioned those making charitable donations to avoid becoming victims of con artists and opportunists who will try to turn the generosity of donors into personal profit.
“Californians have shown tremendous compassion during our state’s floods and wildfires and I have no doubt that we will give in the same spirit to the largest relief effort in our nation’s history,” said Lockyer. “Unfortunately, we know from experience that scam artists will emerge and try to turn this tragedy into personal profit. Donors should take a moment to evaluate relief funds in order to ensure that their money will help the hurricane victims and not simply line the pockets of those trying to cash in on this tragedy.”
Lockyer noted that fraudulent and misleading charitable solicitations are common during these times, by phone, mail, in front of retail stores, and on the Internet. He advised consumers to take time to consider carefully any charitable solicitation on behalf of hurricane victims, and offered the following tips:
● Closely review the various disaster relief appeals before you decide to whom you will give your donation.
● Stick with established charities, rather than ones that spring up overnight. If you are unsure, check to see if the charity is registered in California with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee legitimacy, but it is an important indicator. A searchable database is available at http://www.ag.ca.gov/charities . Information on national charities is available from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at 800-575-4483 or www.give.org .
● Take action on your own rather than responding to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly by phoning the group, finding its official web site, or via regular mail.
● Listen closely to the name of the group, and beware of “copycat” names that sound like reputable charities.
● Don’t give through email solicitations. Clicking on an email may lead you to a site that looks real but is set up by identity thieves to get money or confidential information. If you get an email from what appears to be a reputable organization, instead give directly by phoning the group, finding its official web site, or via regular mail.
● Do not give cash. Make checks out to the charitable organization, not the solicitor.
● Do not be pressured into giving, which happens especially in phone solicitations. Even in times of emergency, reputable organizations do not expect you to contribute immediately if you are unfamiliar with their services. Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion but short on details about how the charity will help disaster victims.
● Ask what percentage of donations will be used for charitable activities that help victims, and how much will fund administrative and fundraising costs. State law requires solicitors to provide such information if asked by donors. Be wary of fundraisers who balk at answering.
● Always tell the charity to earmark your contribution to the “Hurricane Katrina” fund. Write it on your check.
● Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after victims’ needs are addressed.
For additional giving tips, review the Attorney General’s Guide to Charitable Solicitation at www.ag.ca.gov/charities/publications/CharitiesSolicitation.pdf . Log onto the web sites for WiseGiving Alliance at www.give.org and FEMA at www.fema.gov/rrr/help2.shtm for additional guidance.
Californians who believe they or others have been victimized by fraudulent charitable solicitation can file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s Registrar of Charitable Trusts at http://www.ag.ca.gov/charities .