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News

Beware of 'Sham Fire-Relief Charities,' Says State

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It seems to happen every disaster, so it's likely to happen this time around as well. "After virtually every disaster, scam artists come out of the woodwork to defraud individuals wishing to help victims," Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement. "Californians should give only to reputable organizations so their donations don't end up lining the pockets of criminals and opportunists." His office has two webpages dedicated to the issue: one for tips on charitable giving and another for submitting complaints if you believe you've been ripped off. In a press release, his office also offers these 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.