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Dear LA, Please Don't Get Scammed This Giving Tuesday

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Taronga Zoo's 15-month-old chimpanzee "Fumo" leaps off a log while carrying one of his Christmas presents after the chimps at the exhibit discovered some gift-wrapped food treats and other tasty decorations in Sydney on Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by William West/AFP/Getty Images)
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So you drank yourself silly on Blackout Wednesday, engorged yourself on Thanksgiving, splurged on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday. Don't feel too bad about all that holiday gluttony. It's now Giving Tuesday -- your chance to redeem yourself through charity.

Launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, a cultural center in New York, Giving Tuesday is a movement focused on service and giving back. It falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and offers a chance for charitable organizations to start tapping consumer guilt (er, generosity).

But whatever cause you think deserves your hard-earned cash, be careful. Plenty of fraudsters are ready to take advantage of all the would-be humanitarians out there.

"As Californians support one another and give back to our communities this holiday season, it's important to make sure the charities we support are the real deal," Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement marking the occasion. "I urge all Californians to be vigilant and do a little research to ensure that their charitable giving goes directly to those who need the help, and not to unscrupulous scam artists."

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Earlier this month, Becerra's office won an $8.8 million judgment against the operators of a fake charity for wounded veterans. The attorney general's office said the directors of the nonprofit Wounded Warriors Support Group used the money raised in raffles and other fundraising operations throughout the state on travel, dining, shopping and other personal expenses.

Also this month, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office warned of a scam in which con artists claim to represent organizations that benefit police, firefighters and other first responders.

So how do you spot a sham? Here are some tips from both organizations:

  • Do your research. Don't assume a charity is safe just because it sounds official. You can use the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts to find out if an organization is legitimate. The website includes a number of resources to help you with your charity research, and you can directly look up a California organization's registration status here. You can also find some ideas and resources to get you started at givingtuesday.org. Pay particular attention to how much a charity spends on its cause and how much goes to overhead costs.
  • Don't let telemarketers pressure you. If you get a call from a pesky solicitor, ask questions. What's the name of the fundraising organization or charity? Is it registered with the Attorney General's Office? How much of your donation goes to the telemarketer? Then ask for the direct telephone number to the charity and confirm it directly with them. And don't be so polite. If all else fails, hang up.
  • Beware of "look-alike" websites or charities. Impostors may try to use names that sound similar to the real deal but are off by a tad. Or they may park a website at a URL that looks very similar. Think thehumanesociety.org instead of www.humanesociety.org. These sites could be designed to collect your personal information or leave malware on your computer.
  • Be wary of social network fundraisers. Social media sites have been making it easier to donate to a particular cause with just a few clicks. But watch out for hidden transaction fees, and find out what percentage is going to the charity and how much is going to the social media platform.
  • Protect your identity. Never give out your social security number. And beware: some organizations make money by selling their donor lists to other organizations. Be sure to check the charity's privacy policy.

Finally, don't forget about little old us on Giving Tuesday. This story was made possible by generous people like you. And to be honest, we couldn't do it without your support. Donate here.