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Attorney General Lockyer Issues Guidelines for Giving Wisely During Holiday Charity Drives
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged Californians to show their holiday spirit by donating generously to the charitable programs that enhance the community and people’s lives, but he also cautioned donors to be vigilant and protect themselves against potential fraud.
“The holidays are a traditional season of giving and I encourage Californians to give generously to charities because they play a critical role in contributing to our communities and to people who need aid,” said Lockyer. “Many groups rely on the fruits of holiday giving to fund their charitable programs. And while the majority of charities are reputable and do good work, it is important to avoid being victimized by those who will try to exploit your compassion.”
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 give in to pressure to 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.
❏ Be proactive. Rather than responding only to the charities that contact you, identify the causes that you care about and then gather information about organizations working on that issue.
❏ Learn more about an organization, its activities and its fundraising practices. Call an organization that you are interested in and ask for a packet of information. Better yet, save them the postage and visit the charity’s web site in order find out more about what it accomplishes 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 to find out more about a charity, such as whether it is registered and whether it is current in financial filings. When you’ve made a decision about which charity you want to support, mail them a check.
❏ Beware of “sound-alike” names. Don't be fooled by names that sound impressive or that closely resemble the name of a familiar organization. For example, the Attorney General’s office has received numerous complaints about phony organizations using law enforcement names in their titles.
❏ 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.
❏ Avoid email solicitations. Spammers are getting better every day at creating phony solicitations that look real. Many of them will lead victims to a web site that looks like a legitimate organization, but is really a false front for an illegal scam. If you get an email that piques your interest, delete it and instead either do a web search for the organization or call them directly.
❏ Be wary about 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. Commercial fundraisers, such as telemarketers, are required to tell you if they are being paid and whether they are registered with the Attorney General’s Office. Ask how much of your donation will be retained by the fundraiser and how much will be received by the charity. State law requires commercial fundraisers to provide that information if asked. Commercial fundraisers also are required 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.