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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged Californians to give generously to charities this holiday season, but he also cautioned donors to protect themselves from potential fraudulent solicitors by taking steps to make careful and informed decisions about the causes they choose to support.
“I encourage people to show their holiday spirit by giving generously to the charities that enhance our communities and people’s lives,” said Lockyer. “I also encourage people to give wisely. While the majority of charities are reputable and do good work, it is important to make informed decisions in order to avoid being victimized by those who try to exploit compassion and good will.”
Lockyer offered consumers the following checklist on how to ensure their donations are used for the purposes for which they are given and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. The checklist is contained in the “Attorney General’s Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors” (Guide), which can be downloaded at www.ag.ca.gov/charities.
- Don’t donate on the spot. Know enough about the soliciting charity to assure you are giving wisely. Take the time to become informed about the charity, its programs and how it spends its funds.
- Develop a Giving Plan. Take a moment to write down a list of charities you will support throughout the year and how much you will give. Or, identify the causes that matter to you and find groups that work on those issues. A giving plan encourages careful decisions and guards against impulsive emotional decisions. A plan also gives you a solid reason to gently decline other solicitations.
- Learn more about an organization before you give. Call an organization that you are interested in and ask for information. Better yet, save them the postage and visit the charity’s web site in order find out more about its accomplishments and how your donation will be used. Search the web for news articles mentioning the organization in order to see how they are perceived in the community. Visit the Attorney General’s web site (www.ag.ca.gov/charities) or Wise Giving Alliance, which is affiliated with the Better Business Bureau ( www.give.org) to find out more about a charity, such as whether it is registered and whether it is current in financial filings. If the charity is local, take the time to visit its programs. When you’ve made a decision about which charity you want to support, mail them a check.
- Don't give cash. If you are approached at the door, or while you are out and about shopping, and you know the group is legitimate, write a check and make it out to the organization. Don’t make the check out to the person or firm asking for the donation. Some well-known charities do solicit cash during the holidays. Dropping change in a bucket is okay, if you are sure you know the charity and that it has sanctioned the solicitation.
- Beware of “sound-alike” names. Scammers will often use organization names that sound impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known cause. For example, the Attorney General’s office has received numerous complaints about phony organizations using law enforcement names in their titles.
- Be careful when using your credit card. Many reputable organizations offer credit card transactions because it helps keep their fundraising costs down. In order to protect your personal financial information, if you want to donate via credit card, call the organization directly to make the transaction and ask the organization not to store your credit card number. If you want to give through an organization’s secured website, call the organization to verify the web address, as well as the security system.
- Ask solicitors how your donation will be spent. State law requires commercial fundraisers, such as telemarketers, to tell you, if asked, how much of your dollar will go to the charity and how much the fundraiser will keep. Commercial fundraisers also are required to register with the Attorney General’s office and to file reports detailing how much of the donations are returned to the charities for which they are solicited. Reports can be found at the Attorney General’s web site.
- Never accept an offer to send a messenger to your home to pick up your contribution.
Those who want to volunteer their time or service, or donate food or other goods to a charity, are encouraged to follow some of the same rules. Find out as much as possible about an organization before agreeing to assist.
Consumers who wish to report a charity that may be conducting fraudulent solicitations can contact the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts online at http://www.ag.ca.gov/charities or in writing at P.O. Box 903447, Sacramento, CA 94203-4470.