San Diego DA warns about potential scams when donating to charities

SAN DIEGO – San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan warned county residents to be careful when donating to charities that promise to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The district attorney’s office is offering important consumer advice and information to avoid becoming a victim of charity scams.

“We have such a caring community in San Diego County that wants to help those in need during a crisis, like this latest natural disaster that’s taking such a toll in Texas and Louisiana,” Stephan said. “Unfortunately, some people use times of crisis to take advantage of others. People who want to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey by donating to charities can protect themselves from scammers by watching out for red flags.”

When donating, it’s a best practice not to respond to any solicitation. Instead, for people who are inclined to help – donate independently to a known charity or help group that is known to assist in these types of events. Even if the solicitor is persuasive, don’t commit at that moment; check them out first – then donate. Acting based upon a cold call is never wise.

Always do independent research to avoid becoming a victim of a charity scam. The Federal Trade Commission has published important tips and information on how to do that research, including a link to Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, which has a list of organizations that are responding in the aftermath of the storm.

The FTC provides the following checklist of precautions to make sure any donation benefits the people and organizations it is intended to help:

Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address and telephone number.

Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching for the name of the organization online – especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”– is one way to learn about its reputation.

Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help with that inquiry.

Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in California by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials, www.nasconet.org/.

Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar.

Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask the name of the charity they represent, the percentage of each donation that will go to the charity, how much will go to the actual donation cause and how much will go to the fundraiser.

Keep a record of all donations.

Make an annual donation plan. That way, it is possible to decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive donations.

Visit https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/ to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.

Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check – made payable to the charity – or by credit card.

Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once it is sent, it can’t be sent back.

Do not provide credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until the charity has been thoroughly researched.

Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.

If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help the local community, for example, local police or firefighters, ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.

What about texting? If someone texts to donate, the charge will show up on their mobile phone bill. If they’ve asked their mobile phone provider to block premium text messages – texts that cost extra – then they won’t be able to donate this way.

The National Do Not Call Registry, https://donotcall.gov/, gives people a way to reduce telemarketing calls, but it exempts charities and political groups. However, if a fundraiser is calling on behalf of a charity, it is possible to ask them not to call anymore from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If those calls continue, the fundraiser may be subject to a fine.

If anyone thinks they’ve been the victim of a charity scam or if a fundraiser has violated “Do Not Call” rules, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1. The complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing and lead to investigations and prosecutions.

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