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Attorney General Lockyer Urges Charity Donors and Homeowners to Be Wary of Con Artists Trying to Exploit Wildfire Tragedy

Thursday, October 30, 2003
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged Californians to open their hearts to help the victims of California's wildfires, but cautioned charity donors and homeowners to take steps to avoid becoming victims of scam artists trying to profit from the widespread personal tragedy.

"Californians' generosity is unequaled, and I have no doubt we will show that compassionate spirit to help ease the human suffering caused by the most devastating fires in our state's history," said Lockyer. "Unfortunately, we know from experience that scam artists always crawl out from under the rocks to try and turn tragedy into profit. Consumers should take care to ensure that when they make charitable donations, their money will help the fires' victims and not simply line the pockets of scoundrels."

Lockyer also warned residents trying to rebuild their homes and lives to not fall prey to unscrupulous or unlicensed contractors. "The charlatans will descend," said Lockyer. "Many will promise fast, quality work at a great price, but few will be able to deliver. Don't get fooled. Be careful. Check them out and make sure they are licensed and reputable."

Lockyer offered the following tips to Californians solicited for charitable donations to help disaster relief efforts:

Closely review the various disaster relief appeals, rather than responding to the first solicitation received.

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.

Don't give in to high-pressure solicitation tactics. 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 fire victims, and how much will fund administrative and fund-raising costs. State law requires solicitors to provide such information if asked by donors. Be wary of fund-raisers who balk at answering.

Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after victims' needs are addressed.

Do not give cash. Make checks out to the charitable organization, not the solicitor.

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.

Before hiring a contractor, consumers should make sure the business is licensed with the state. Homeowners and others also should remember not to rush into a decision, to obtain multiple bids and to get a written contract.

To find out if a contractor is licensed, contact the Contractors State License Board at http://www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling 800-321-CSLB. The Board also has produced a checklist to help consumers avoid getting scammed in disaster situations. The checklist can be obtained online at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/forms/afterdisaster.pdf.

Consumers who believe they have been victimized by a contractor can file a complaint with the Attorney General's Public Inquiry Unit at http://www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/mailform.htm or by writing to P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

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