SANTA BARBARA – Today in Santa Barbara, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined Unity Shoppe Inc. to share tips and resources on how to avoid scams while donating this holiday season. Attorney General Bonta has the primary responsibility for supervising charities and the professional fundraisers who solicit on their behalf in California. Under Government Code section 12598, the Attorney General may investigate and bring legal actions against charities that misuse charitable assets or engage in fraudulent fundraising practices. In providing today’s tips, Attorney General Bonta encourages donors to take the necessary steps to ensure that their donations get into the correct hands.
“This time of year, residents of Santa Barbara are stepping up to support one another by giving both their time and donations to local nonprofit organizations. One of those nonprofits being Unity Shoppe, whose volunteers and donors help provide food and critical support services to those in need,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Many depend on the generosity of residents throughout our state, which is why it is important to make sure that you are contributing to legitimate charities, such as Unity Shoppe. As Attorney General, my office is committed to protecting donors from deceptive solicitations. You can help our efforts by taking essential steps in researching charities before giving this holiday season. If you believe that a charity or fundraiser has acted in bad faith, please report it immediately at oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.”
“Day in and day out, and for more than a century, Unity Shoppe has held the trust of the community by working in a manner that is reliable, welcoming, and inclusive, and that meets the critical needs of our most vulnerable residents,” said Tom Reed, Executive Director of Unity Shoppe Inc. “I couldn’t be more proud and grateful for our community of volunteers and donors, small and large, who entrust us with this important work.”
- Check the Registration Status: Charities operating in California and telemarketers soliciting donations in California are required to register with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. They are also required to file annual financial reports, which are made available to the public. Prior to making a donation, make sure to confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with its financial reporting by searching the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts’ database, located here.
- Give to Organizations You Trust: Do your research before giving. Review the charity’s purpose and find out how the charity spends its donations. How much is spent directly on the charitable cause? How much goes to overhead and employee compensation? Research charities in your community and support those charities that make a positive impact. If you choose to donate to a charity you are unfamiliar with, contact the charity and ask for information in writing about its programs and finances. You should also confirm the charity’s name, address, and its nonprofit status.
- Be Wary of Social Network Fundraising: If you are planning to donate through a social network solicitation, first do some research. Find out what percentage is going to the charity, whether you will be charged a fee, or if a percentage of your donation will be paid to the platform website.
- Don’t Be Pressured by Telemarketers – Ask Questions Before Donating: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, ask for the name of the fundraising organization, whether it is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, the name of the charity benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the telemarketer, and the direct telephone number of the charity. If the telemarketer tells you the donation is for your local animal shelter, hospital, school, police, firefighter, or other public safety agency, check directly with the benefitting organization to confirm that it authorized the solicitation and will actually benefit from your donation. Don’t fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember that you have the right to reject the donation appeal and if you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
- Be Vigilant When Donating After Natural Disasters or Tragedies: Well-intentioned or otherwise, charities are sometimes formed overnight to address calamities. As a result, oftentimes they lack the experience, contacts, and staff needed to respond to a disaster. Fraudsters are always seeking to capitalize on people’s desire to help. Even during a crisis, make sure to take your time to research a charity before giving.
- Watch Out for Similar-Sounding Names, Web Addresses, and Other Deceptive Tactics: Fraudulent organizations may use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations in order to mislead donors. Look out for fraudulent websites that have a slightly different web address (URL) than that of a legitimate charitable organization. Similar-looking URLs are sometimes purchased by fraudsters to lure in would-be donors. These sites may ask you for personal information or install harmful material onto your device. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you never made, and always check your records.
- Understand the Difference Between “Tax-Exempt” and "Tax-Deductible": Being a nonprofit does not mean the organization is exempt from taxation, or that your donation is tax-deductible. Generally, a tax-exempt organization is exempt from paying tax on its income and gifts, but may or may not be able to offer a charitable tax deduction to donors for their contributions. Just because an organization has a “Tax ID Number” or provides donors with a receipt that says “keep this receipt for your records” does not mean that the organization is a charity, tax-exempt, or that your donation is tax-deductible. A few tax-exempt organizations – most notably those given 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – are able to offer charitable tax deductions for your donations. If you are not sure whether your donation is tax-deductible, verify the charity’s tax-exempt status by using the tools and information located on the IRS website.
- Consider the Costs of Gifts and Merchandise: Gifts that you receive from a charity in exchange for your donation cost money and generally, these expenses are paid from donated funds. The value of the goods and services that you receive for your donation is not tax-deductible. Some charities may sell merchandise online and claim that “100% of the proceeds” will benefit its charitable purpose. However, this does not necessarily mean that 100% of the sales price of the merchandise will go to charity, and the cost of the merchandise itself can greatly reduce the value of your donation.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your donations, check out our donation tips webpage at oag.ca.gov/donations. Complaints against charities can be filed using our charity complaint form, which you can find on our website at oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.