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Brown Encourages Californians to Donate to Haitian Relief Effort, but Warns Donors to Avoid Charity Scams

Thursday, January 14, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Oakland - Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today is encouraging Californians to make charitable donations for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, but warns citizens to avoid “scam artists” who may prey on the goodwill of California donors.

“After every tragedy, a wave of scam artists take advantage of generous individuals who want to help the victims of a tragedy,” Brown said. “It’s important to thoroughly research charitable organizations before you write a check.”

The Attorney General’s Office regulates charities and professional fundraisers in order to prevent the misapplication of charitable donations made by Californians. Brown offers the following tips on how to give wisely in order to assure that donations will be used for the intended purpose:

1. Carefully review disaster-relief appeals before giving. In times of disaster, many “sound-alike” organizations and sham operations solicit donations.

2. Know the charity before you donate. Review the charity’s website and written material to assure the program is one you want to support. Check the organization’s financial filings to see how it spends its assets, how long it has been operating and what program services it offers.

3. Make sure the charity is registered in the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee that a charity is effective, but it is an important indicator. A searchable database is available at http://ag.ca.gov/charities.php.

4. Beware of organizations that don’t have a track record. Only give to established charities, not organizations that seem to spring up overnight. Again, check the Registry database to confirm this information.

5. Take action on your own rather than responding to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly, either by calling the organization, using the organization’s official web site, or mailing a check to the address listed on the organization’s website.

6. Listen closely to the name of the group and beware of 'copycat' names that sound like reputable charities.

7. Avoid donating through email solicitations. Clicking on an email may lead you to a website that looks authentic, but is established by identity thieves seeking to obtain money or personal information.

8. Do not give cash. Write checks to the charitable organization, not a solicitor.

9. Do not be pressured into giving. 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.

10. If you are contacted by a solicitor, ask what percentage of your donations will be used for charitable activities that help victims and how much will be used to pay for administrative and fundraising costs. State law requires solicitors to provide such information if requested by donors. Be wary of fundraisers who balk at answering.

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

12. There are many forms of giving. Alternative forms of giving include charitable gift annuities, in-kind contributions, and endowments.

For additional tips on charitable giving, go to http://ag.ca.gov/charities/charit_giving.php. Information on national charities is available from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at 800-575-4483 or www.give.org.

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://ag.ca.gov/charities.php.

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