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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged Californians to show their holiday spirit by donating to charitable programs that enhance the community and people's lives, but cautioned them to be vigilant and protect themselves against fraud.
"I'm proud that Californians believe so much in helping the less fortunate and unselfishly give to charitable organizations year after year," said Lockyer. "But they should take steps to avoid being victimized by charlatans who will try to exploit their compassion. These scam artists deprive the needy and steal money from consumers."
Lockyer offered consumers the following suggestions on how to avoid fraud and ensure their donations are used for the purposes for which they are given.</ul>
<li>Gather as many facts as you can about both the solicitor and charity, including exact name, address and telephone number. Commercial fund-raisers and charitable organizations are required to register and file financial statements with the Attorney General's Office. Registration and financial information can be obtained at the Attorney General's web site, http://www.ag.ca.gov/charities .
<li>Many California cities and counties have ordinances to protect the public against fraudulent solicitation. These ordinances may require charities and charitable fund-raisers to register, certify their tax-exempt status, obtain a license to solicit, and file an accounting of fund-raising proceeds. Find out from your city if such ordinances are in effect. Registration is not proof of trustworthiness, but failure to register violates California law.
<li>If solicited in person, ask to see the solicitor's identification. If solicited by telephone, ask to be mailed information about the charity's purpose, goals and finances before making any donation.
<li>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.
<li>Don't give cash. Make checks out to the charitable organization, not the person asking for the donation. Never give your credit card number.
<li>Ask how your money will be used. Ask how much money actually will reach the charity and whether the solicitor is being paid. If you ask how much of your money will go to the charity, the solicitor is required by law to give you the information. Reports detailing how much of the donations solicited by commercial fund-raisers go to charities can be found at the Attorney General's web site, www.ag.ca.gov/charities/publications.htm .
<li>Don't give in to pressure to donate on the spot. Take the time to become informed. Review written materials about the organization and check its financial reports. Get a clear understanding of how the organization will use your money. Legitimate charities will not rush or pressure you into donating immediately.
<li>Do not accept any offers to send a messenger to your home to pick up your contribution.
<li>Hang up the telephone on aggressive and harassing solicitors.</ul>
Californians who want to volunteer their time or service, or donate food or other goods to a charity should follow some of the same rules. They should find out as much as possible about an organization before agreeing to assist. Donors who want to volunteer their time to help a particular kind of program should find out which charities have the best track records of supporting those programs. Before contributing food, toys or other items, donors should consider whether they want to provide such donations to a specific population and assure themselves that the charity will get the goods to those people.
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.