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Brown Warns Donors to Avoid Sham Fire-Relief Charities

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Los Angeles – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today warned Californians wishing to assist victims of the California fires to avoid “sham charities” that rip off consumers in the wake of major disasters.

“After virtually every disaster, scam artists come out of the woodwork to defraud individuals wishing to help victims,” Brown said. “Californians should give only to reputable organizations so their donations don’t end up lining the pockets of criminals and opportunists.”

Brown noted that fraudulent and misleading charitable solicitations are common following disasters – whether the donation request comes by phone, mail, in front of retail stores, or email. He advised consumers to take time to carefully consider fire-relief solicitations before giving, and offered the following tips:

• Closely review disaster-relief appeals before giving.

• Stick with charities that are reputable rather than those that spring up overnight. If you are unsure, 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://ag.ca.gov/charities.php. Information on national charities is available from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at 800-575-4483 or www.give.org.

• Take action on your own rather than responding to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly by phoning the group, finding its official web site, or via regular mail.

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

• Don't give through email solicitations. Clicking on an email may lead you to a site that looks real but is established by identity thieves seeking to obtain money or personal information.

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

• 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.

• Ask what percentage of donations will be used for charitable activities that help victims and how much will fund administrative and fundraising costs. State law requires solicitors to provide such information if requested by donors. Be wary of fundraisers who balk at answering.

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

For additional tips on charitable giving, go to http://ag.ca.gov/charities/charit_giving.php

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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