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More Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to more frequently asked questions of the Attorney General's Office, California Department of Justice. If after reading these FAQs you need information, contact our Public Inquiry Unit. The unit serves as the Attorney General's central clearinghouse for consumer complaints and public inquiries.

Please keep in mind that the Attorney General's Office cannot provide you with personal legal advice or conduct personal legal research and will not be able to represent you individually in court. Whenever possible and as appropriate, we do offer general information and potential sources of assistance elsewhere.

Links to Topics below.

Charities

  • How do I find out if a charity is legitimate?

    • Taking the time to learn about an organization is important when you consider that there are more than 700,000 federally recognized charities - nearly 90,000 of them in California - and no official "seal of approval" issued for these nonprofit corporations.

      Start by asking questions and finding out about the charity's programs and fund-raising activities. Reputable charities and fundraisers will be willing to give you information and details, and won't rush you into a decision.

      Whether someone comes knocking at your door asking for donations or you get a solicitation in the mail or by phone, here are some TIPS: Things to Consider Before Donating Your Time and Money, pdf. Don't be fooled by sound-alike names.

      In California, charities and commercial fundraisers hired by charities must register with the Attorney General's Office before soliciting donations. Charities with income and assets exceeding $25,000 must file annual financial reports with the IRS, the state Franchise Tax Board and the Attorney General's Office.

      The Attorney General's website offers a searchable registry of charities and a searchable registry of commercial fundraisers. You can get a snapshot of a charity's activities by reviewing the financial disclosure reports of the organization. The Attorney General's Charitable Trust website has more information about charities.

      Charities incorporated as nonprofit benefit corporations also must register with the Secretary of State as a condition of doing business in California. Use the Secretary of State's business portal to search the business status of a nonprofit organization.

      To report suspected fraud by a charity or commercial fundraiser, contact the Attorney General's office in writing. You can send your complaint by regular mail to the Registry of Charitable Trusts at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550, or email the Registrar of Charitable Trusts.

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    Child Support

  • I have questions about my child support. Where can I get answers?

    • You should contact your local child support agency or you can get information from the California Department of Child Support Services. The department's website offers answers to frequently asked questions on child support. The California Department of Child Support was established by the Legislature in 1999 to consolidate various child support services that were spread among assorted state agencies. You can call the Department of Child Support Services at (916) 464-5050 or toll-free at (866) 249-0773.

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    Civil Rights

  • I believe I've been discriminated against. Where can I file my complaint about discrimination due to sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition?

    • Contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state agency designated to handle complaints of unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. If you believe you are a victim of hate violence, contact your local law enforcement agency and the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. While having discretionary authority to consider these civil rights violations, the Attorney General has sought to maximize resources by having his Civil Rights Enforcement Section focus on cases that involve a broader pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination. If you have information about a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations or acts of hate violence, file a civil rights complaint with the Attorney General.

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    Consumers/Business

  • How do I find out if a company I am considering doing business with is legitimate? Can I find out if the Attorney General's Office has received complaints about the company?

    • Unfortunately, there is no one-stop shop for checking out companies, and our office cannot give you personal legal advice or comment on the legitimacy of a particular business. By researching a company, you may be able to detect whether the business is legitimate and help ensure that you invest wisely your hard-earned money. If you have any doubts about a company's business practices, here is some general advice to consider:

      • Ask for a list of references. The list should include companies from which the company buys materials, as well as distributors or customers to whom the company sells products or services.
      • Ask for a business statement. A business statement should describe the daily practices of the company. It should provide general information on the company, such as the number of years in business, its locations, the owners and a description of its organizational structure.
      • Ask about licenses and compliance with applicable state and local requirements. Find out what licenses the company must possess and who to contact to verify that the licenses have been obtained. Find out what actions the company has taken to ensure that all its actions are legal within the State of California.
      • Ask about a stock portfolio or income statement. If you are thinking about investing in a company, ask for a stock portfolio or income statement. These documents will provide the investor with information on the company's assets and liabilities. If the firm is publicly traded, check the company's website for financial statements and other regulatory filings. Conduct an Internet search for as much information as you can learn about the company's performance and conduct, and what others are saying about the company.
      • Check complaints about the company. AAs a law enforcement agency, the Attorney General's Office does not release information on consumer complaints that involve as-yet-unproven allegations that could create misleading and unfair impressions about a company. Our Consumer Law Section uses these consumer complaints to look for patterns of deceptive or unfair business practices where legal action brought by the Attorney General could serve the interest of the general public. While information from our office is limited, you may able to learn about consumer complaints about the company by contacting the Better Business Bureau where the company is located or doing business. See http://www.bbb.org.
  • I have a complaint against a company. Where can I file my consumer complaint?

    • You should contact the agency that most directly regulates the business or profession of the individual or company about which you want to complain. To help you find the relevant agency, check the California Department of Consumer Affairs Referral Table.

      If you are uncertain or believe the Attorney General's Office is the best place to file your complaint, use the Attorney General's on-line complaint form or send your complaint in writing by regular mail to: Attorney General's Office, Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

      While the Attorney General handles complaints against a variety of businesses, our office may, after reviewing your complaint, refer the matter to another agency if your complaint concerns a subject normally handled by that other agency. We will notify you of such referrals. Also, please note the Attorney General's Office does not represent private individuals in legal actions. Additionally, there may be complaints involving issues over which the Attorney General will not be able to address.

      You may want to review General Information on Using State Agencies to Help Resolve Your Consumer Complaint, pdf. In pursuing your complaint, you may want to consider other means of resolving the matter. See information on using Small Claims Court and seeking third-party help provided by the California Courts.

  • I'm doing a home improvement project so how do I find out if a contractor is legitimate?
    And if I have a problem, where can I file a complaint about a contractor?


    • The term "contractor" applies broadly to individuals and firms that offer services that include home building, remodeling, room additions, swimming pool installation, painting, roofing, landscaping, plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning. Contractors also include individuals who repair mobile homes.

      If you are thinking of hiring a contractor, check with the California Contractors State License Board. The board can help you check the status of a contractor's license and offers pointers for hiring a contractor, making sure a contractor measures up and what you should consider in home improvement contracts.

      If you have a complaint against a contractor, contact the Contractors State License Board. Your complaint must be in writing. Complaints for work performed in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties are directed to the board's Norwalk Intake & Mediation Center. Complaints about work in other counties are directed to the board's Sacramento Intake & Mediation Center. More details and a complaint form are available on the board's website; or by calling 1-800-321-CSLB (1-800-321-2572) or writing: Contractors State License Board, P.O. Box 269116, Sacramento, CA 95826

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    Federal Government

  • I have a question about a federal government program. Who can I call?

    • You can find a listing of federal government agencies in your local telephone book under United States Government Offices or check the federal government website. If you have questions about federal law issues, contact the U.S. Attorney General, your regional US Attorney's Office or the U.S. Department of Justice. The California Attorney General is a state government official and the California Department of Justice is a state government agency that operate separately from these federal government offices and agencies.

  • Where can I get a copy of a federal law?

    • On the Internet, search the United States Code by key words or specific code section and download text. Or you may want to visit a local public law library. Your county law library is listed in the telephone directory in the County Government Offices section under "Law Library." Our office is restricted by law from providing legal research or legal analysis for private individuals under any circumstances.

  • Where can I find more information about Immigration and becoming a U.S. Citizen?

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    Fingerprinting & Criminal History

  • I need to get a fingerprint clearance. How do I get one?

    • As the state's central repository for criminal history records, the California Department of Justice provides an automated fingerprint submission service for conducting criminal background checks that may be required as a condition of employment, licensing, certification, child placement, or entry into the United States or another country.

      All applicant fingerprint submissions must be transmitted electronically. Live Scan digital submissions provide the quickest way to submit and process background checks.

      You can obtain fingerprinting services at most local police departments, sheriff's offices, or any public applicant Live Scan site. To find a location nearest you, see list of Public Live Scan Sites.

      When being fingerprinted, you must present valid photo identification. Expired identification cards will not be accepted. You also must pay a service or "rolling" fee. While rolling fees vary from site to site, most charge between $12 and $20. An additional processing fee for state (Department of Justice) and federal (FBI) criminal history record checks may be charged if the cost is not billable to the agency requesting your criminal background check. Ask your requesting agency for information on the fees for which you are responsible before going to a LiveScan site or seeking fingerprint-rolling services.

      In California, fingerprinting must be done by a certified fingerprint roller or qualified law enforcement personnel.

      Applicants Living Outside California/United States must submit manual fingerprint cards (Form FD258).

      Print out the Application to Obtain Copy of State Summary Criminal History Record (Form BCII 8705, pdf) and follow the instructions on the form. Please contact your local law enforcement agency for fingerprinting services. PLEASE NOTE: Your fingerprint card must contain your full name, date of birth, sex and return mailing address. If you are having difficulty in obtaining a blank fingerprint card, please contact the Record Review Unit at (916) 227-3849.

      Manual submissions must be accompanied by either personal check drawn on a U.S. bank, money order or certified check. The check or money order must be made payable to the “California Department of Justice.” Mail your application, fingerprint card and processing fee to:

        California Department of Justice
        Record Review Unit
        P.O. Box 903417
        Sacramento, CA 94203-4170

  • It's taking a long time. How can I check on the status of my fingerprint background check?

    • Applicants and Applicant Agencies who submit digital Live Scan fingerprints can check quickly on the status of their fingerprint submission using the Department of Justice's 24-hour automated system.

      For the automated system, call (916) 227-4557 using a touch-tone telephone and follow the voice-prompted menu. You will need to have the following information available: (1) the applicant's date of birth; and (2) the 10-digit Automated Transaction Identifier (ATI) number that appears at the bottom of the Department of Justice form requesting Live Scan fingerprint background checks. To get your ATI number, contact the agency requesting your criminal background check. (The ATI number always appears in the following sequence: 1 LETTER; 3 NUMBERS; 3 LETTERS and 3 NUMBERS.)

      There is no automated system for checking on paper fingerprint card submissions. To obtain status information for hard card submissions, or if you have specific applicant submission problems, contact the state Department of Justice's Applicant Processing Program at (916) 227-3823. Because of the volume of calls received and time needed to research each request, there may be delays in responding to your inquiry.

  • How do I get a copy of my Criminal History Record?

    • Access to Criminal History Records is limited strictly by law. Only the person who is the subject of the Criminal History Record and law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes may obtain a copy. Third party requests for criminal history records are not authorized and cannot be honored. (California Penal Code section 11105.)

      To request a copy of your own Criminal History Record from the California Department of Justice, complete and submit an "Application to Obtain Copy of State Summary Criminal History Record" or a letter with specified details. You will need to furnish a full set of fingerprint impressions with your request. For detailed instructions and the application form, see Fingerprint Submissions - Criminal Records Review.

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    Firearms

  • How do I get a firearms permit?

    • For answers, visit the Attorney General's Bureau of Firearms website. The Bureau of Firearms has information on a variety of firearms topics, including purchase, possession, safety storage, transfers and dealer responsibilities.

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    Indian Gaming

  • Where can I get a copy of an Indian Gaming Compact?

    • You can view the Model Tribal-State Compact on the California Gambling Control Commission's website or contact the Attorney General's Bureau of Gambling Control. The California Gambling Control Commission and Bureau of Gambling Control are the two state agencies that comprise the California Gaming Agency. You also can try inquiring directly with the tribes that operate casinos. Consult the List of tribes operating casinos under current compacts.

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    Legal Opinions

  • How do I get a copy of an Attorney General's Opinion?

    • California law (Government Code section 12519) specifies the government officials who may submit requests for a formal Attorney General's Opinion. The law does not permit requests from individual members of the public.

      An Attorney General's Opinion is a comprehensive analysis of the law and case history relevant to an issue. Courts give great weight to the opinions. Requests for an Attorney General's Opinion may come from constitutional officers, directors of state government agencies, state legislators, district attorneys, prosecuting city attorneys, county counsels and county sheriffs. Visit Attorney General Legal Opinions for more information and to research past opinions.

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    Legal Services

  • I need a lawyer. Can I get legal help from the Attorney General?

    • The Attorney General by law cannot give you legal advice or handle your personal case in court. You will need to consult a private attorney. See Attorneys/Lawyers.

  • I cannot afford a lawyer. Are there free legal services I can use?

    • Free or low-cost legal services may be available through a local Legal Aid Society or lawyer referrals. See Attorneys/Lawyers.

  • I have a complaint about a lawyer. Where can I file my complaint?

    • Contact the State Bar of California, which oversees the conduct of lawyers admitted to practice in the state. The State Bar's Attorney Discipline System takes complaints from the public and investigations allegations for potential disciplinary action by the State Bar.

      The State Bar can discipline or recommend that an attorney be disciplined for violations of the Star Bar Act or Rules of Professional Conduct. Complaints of criminal conduct should be referred to the district attorney in the county in which the alleged crime occurred.

      The State Bar operates a toll-free complaint hotline for Californians: 1-800-843-9053.

      Consumers outside the state can call: 213-765-1200.

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    Local Government

  • I have a complaint about a local public official. Where can I file my complaint?

    • Local government authorities are responsible for handling complaints against their employees. The Office of the Attorney General generally does not supersede local law enforcement agencies in these matters.

      You should address your complaint to the local official's supervisor, and pursue the complaint up the employee's chain of command until your complaint is addressed. This may include bringing your complaint to the attention of the city council or city attorney, if it concerns a city official, or the board of supervisors or district attorney, if it concerns a county official

      If after taking these steps you continue to doubt the legality of an action taken by your local officials, consult a private attorney who can represent your interests in a dispute.

  • Where do I file my complaint if I believe a local public official is violating the law?

    • If you believe you have information indicating criminal conduct on the part of a public employee, you should immediately contact the appropriate local law enforcement authority in the city or county where the incident occurred.

      If you feel your complaint about improper governmental activities has not been addressed satisfactorily by the local government agency, consider submitting your complaint to the county grand jury. If after investigation the grand jury concurs with your allegations, it will request the intervention of the district attorney. The state Attorney General would not become involved in such a case unless the local district attorney had a conflict of interest that would prevent the district attorney from making any criminal charging decision in the case.

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    Pardons

  • How do I apply for a pardon?

    • The California Constitution (Article V, Section 8) gives the Governor the exclusive authority to grant pardons. The state Board of Prison Terms has information available on How To Apply For A Pardon. Applicants for a traditional pardon must write directly to the Governor's Office. Applications should be addressed to Governor's Office, Attention Legal Affairs Secretary, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814.

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    Police Misconduct

  • I want to complain about police misconduct. Where do I file my complaint?

    • You should direct your concern first to the local law enforcement agency. Under Penal Code section 832.5, each law enforcement agency in the state must establish a procedure to investigate complaints from citizens. A written description of this procedure is available from all law enforcement agencies.

      To file a complaint against a police officer, you must be able to produce a factual statement which clearly describes the date, place and nature of the incident, the names of the law enforcement officer(s) involved, the names of witnesses, and the specific allegation of violation of law.

      If unable to resolve the complaint through local law enforcement review, contact the district attorney's office in the county that has jurisdiction over the police agency - or contact the county grand jury. Most complaints against local law enforcement can be resolved by contacting these agencies.

      If these agencies do not act on your complaint within a reasonable amount of time, you may write to the Attorney General's Office, which has a policy governing the review of police misconduct complaints, pdf. Complaints directed to the Attorney General by California citizens should include the details of attempts to resolve the issue with the police agency, district attorney or grand jury. The Attorney General cannot act on a report that does not contain specific information about misconduct that violates state law.

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    Public Utility

  • I have a complaint about my utility service (electricity, natural gas, telephone, cellular phone). Where do I file my complaint?

    • You should file your complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission, which is the primary regulator of utilities in the state. If you have a complaint against a utility company (telephone, gas, electric, water, etc), you can use the CPUC on-line complaint form. You can file a copy of your complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

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    Registered Sex Offender Information

  • How do I learn if a registered sex offender lives near me?

    • You can now Search the Megan's Law Registry from the Attorney General's website. Using this feature, you can view a map showing where registered sex offenders live and search by such categories as the registrant's name, zip code and street address. The information is available in English and 12 other languages.

      The public information for registered sex offenders reflects only what is allowed to be disclosed under California's Megan's Law. The law also prohibits using the information disclosed to harass or commit any crime against the offender.

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    Seller Assisted Marketing Plan

  • Someone has offered me a business opportunity, which promises easy money and short hours. How can I tell if it is true and legitimate?

    • California Civil Code at Section 1812.200, regulates "business opportunity offerings" known as Seller Assisted Marketing Plans (SAMPs). Generally, a SAMP is any sale or lease or offer to sell or lease any product, equipment, supplies, or services which requires a payment of more than $500 before or during the first six months of the contract, read more...

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    State Government

  • I need to contact a state agency. Is there a directory available?

    • Use CA.gov's Agency Directory and you willfind an alphabetical listing of various state agencies with information on the Internet. You can find contact information on websites of the agencies.

  • I have a complaint about a state agency. Where can I file my complaint?

    • If reporting illegal acts by state agencies, departments or employees, contact the Bureau of State Audits Whistleblower Hotline. If filing a claim for money or damages against the state, contact the Government Claims Program. Otherwise, you should contact the director of the specific agency with which you have a dispute, your representatives in the California Legislature, and/or a private attorney. The Attorney General represents various state departments in legal matters and does not control the administration of these client agencies.

  • How do I get a copy of a state law?

    • On the Internet, search California Law by key words and specific code sections and download text. Or you may want to visit a local public law library. Your county law librarian may be able to help. The county law library is listed in the telephone directory in the County Government Offices section under "Law Library." The Attorney General's Office is not funded nor authorized to provide legal research or legal analysis for private individuals under any circumstances.

  • Why doesn't the Attorney General change or revoke California law?

    • As a constitutional officer in the executive branch of government, the Attorney General is responsible for enforcement and the uniform application of laws in the state, and cannot unilaterally change or revoke statutes. The power to amend or enact new state laws belongs exclusively to the California Legislature, while the California Courts may set aside laws in conflict with the state Constitution. On legislative matters, the Attorney General is limited to making recommendations on needed changes in law to the California Legislature. If you want to see changes in state law, consider contacting your state legislator in the California Senate or Assembly.

  • How do state laws get changed?

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    Victims of Crime

  • Where can I find help for crime victims?

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    Wages/Working Conditions

  • Where can I find information about wages and working conditions?

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Protecting Consumers

State & Federal Laws

You can search California laws on the Internet

California Law

View a checklist of significant California consumer laws

CA Dept of Consumer Affairs

Search U.S. laws on the Internet at U.S. Code

U.S. Code

Megan's Law

California Registered Sex Offender Database

Search Now

Megan's Law information is also available in these languages:

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