By Summer Stephan
As the holiday season rapidly approaches, we often reflect on what we are thankful for and how we can help others in need. Many of us get into the spirit of charitable giving and want to help organizations with generous donations for taking care of our community.
But not all charities are real: some are scams.
Last year, the District Attorney’s office received numerous consumer and charitable organization complaints about scammers posing as charities requesting money from donors during the holidays.
One person, for example, pretended to be from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and set up a booth outside of a grocery store to solicit money. He had no connection with the real charity, though, and was attempting to scam victims.
In another case involving a person our office prosecuted, a woman went door-to-door across the city soliciting money for a fake charity named “II Chance.” The scammer told potential victims that she was from the legitimate charity “Second Chance,” a great organization that gives justice-involved men, women and youth the life-saving resources they need to break the cycle of addiction, poverty and incarceration.
So how do you determine if charities are real or fake? Here are some tips:
- Number one is asking questions.
- Ask if the charity is registered with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.
- All charities operating in California including telemarketers soliciting donations are required to register.
- Search www.org.ca.gov/charities.
- If they aren’t registered, don’t donate.
- If donating to a national charity outside of California, ask if they are a registered public 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS?
- What is their Employee Identification Number, (EIN)? If they don’t have one, do not donate.
- You can use also use the Tax-Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool at irs.gov to locate a charity’s exemption status.
- Donate to charities that you know and trust.
- Don’t assume that charities are part of a bigger organization without asking questions. Many organizations just like the Boys & Girls Clubs scam mentioned above will use well-established charitable organizations to mislead the public.
- Google it. Do your research about the organization. Find out how your donation will be used, but also be aware of look-alike websites.
- You can also search charitynavigator.org and give.org for a list of legitimate charities.
- Don’t be pressured by telemarketers’ tactics or even threats.
- If they are not going to give you time to ask questions or do your research, don’t donate. Urgency is a red flag. Legitimate charities are willing to wait for you to do your homework.
- Don’t be pressured by doorknocker charities. Often, people will go door to door asking for money for charitable causes but remember the Second Chance scam.
- If you decide to donate, never give out your social security number or other personal identifying information.
- Do not donate by check. In the scam mentioned above, a donor gave the scammer a personal check with her bank account number.
- Always protect your personal identifying information. Credit card donations the safest way to donate and will document your donation and can be disputed and easily canceled if you later discover your donation was compromised.
- If you suspect you were scammed out of a donation:
- Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a consumer complaint with the California Attorney General.
I hope these tips you will help you avoid the grinches this holiday season. On behalf of our entire team at the District Attorney’s Office, which is dedicated to building safe and healthy communities, we wish you a joyful and safe holiday season.
— District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated more than 29 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. Visit sdcda.org/office/contact/ to contact her.