OAKLAND – In recognition of Charity Fraud Awareness Week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today provided donors with tips on how to recognize and avoid fraud. The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for supervising and regulating California charities and the professional fundraisers who solicit on their behalf. Attorney General Bonta encourages donors to learn the signs of charity fraud and to do their research before making any donation.
“Now, more than ever, the generosity of Californians sustains our communities and state. Whether you are looking to donate to victims of California wildfires, or hoping to help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, protect yourself by doing your research and donating to legitimate charitable organizations,” said Attorney General Bonta. “It is important to learn the warning signs of fraud, and take the necessary steps to ensure that your donations get into the right hands.”
Tips on How to Avoid Charity Fraud
- Check the Registration Status: Charities and professional fundraisers 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. Before you donate, make sure to confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with its financial reporting. The Registry of Charitable Trust’s Registry Verification Search tool allows you to search the Registry’s database and verify whether a charitable organization or fundraiser has complied with the Attorney General’s registration and reporting requirements.
- Give to Organizations You Trust: Always do your research before making a donation and only give to charities that you trust. Review the charity’s purpose and find out how much of your donation will actually be spent on the charitable cause, as well as how much will go to overhead and employee compensation (if any). Research charities in your community and support those that make a positive impact.
- Don’t Be Pressured by Telemarketers and Ask Questions Before Donating: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, take your time and make sure to ask plenty of questions, such as: the name of the fundraising organization, whether the fundraising organization is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, the name of the charity that is benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the fundraising company, and the direct telephone number of the charity that is receiving the donation. If the telemarketer tells you the donation is for your local animal shelter, hospital, school, police, 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, you have the right to decline the donation request. If you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
- Be Cautious of "Look-Alike" and Fake Websites: Be on the lookout for websites that use slightly different web addresses (URLs) in order to pass off as a legitimate charity. Scammers sometimes purchase these types of URLs in order to trick potential donors into donating to a look-alike website. Additionally, be careful of fake websites by closely looking at the web address. Most non-profit web addresses will end with “.org” and not “.com”. Be cautious of web addresses that end in a series of numbers, and if a site is asking for your detailed personal information – such as your Social Security Number, date of birth, or your bank account number – it is a scam.
- Watch Out for Similar-Sounding Names and Other Deceptive Tactics: Some organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations in order to mislead donors. Additionally, if you receive an email from an organization to which you have never donated, take extra precautions before clicking on any links. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge or donation that you never made, as scammers use this trick to deceive you into paying them. If you are unsure whether or not you made a donation, make sure to check your records.
- Be Wary of Social Network Fundraising: Never assume charitable fundraisers that you see online or on social media are legitimate, even if it is shared by someone that you trust. If you plan to donate through a social network solicitation, do your research first and 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.
- Be Careful When Making Electronic Donations: Electronic donations, such as donations made via text, QR Codes, and Square Card Readers, have become common practice due to their ability to provide a quick and easy way to donate on the spot. While convenient, remember that anyone can create a QR code, send a text, or buy a Square Card Reader. Always confirm that the solicitation was submitted by a charity, or that the person facilitating the transaction is authorized to receive donations on behalf of a charity. Always check your receipt and your credit card/PayPal statement to ensure that the transaction charged to your account is accurate.
How to Report Fraud
You can help stop charity fraud by reporting suspicious solicitations and behavior when you see it. If a professional fundraiser or telemarketer engages in fraudulent behavior, or if you suspect misuse of charitable assets, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts online at www.oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to protecting California’s donors. Last month Assembly Bill 488, a bill sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and authored by Assemblymember Irwin, was signed into law. The new law, which goes into effect January 1, 2023, authorizes the California Department of Justice to exercise supervision over charitable fundraising occurring on internet platforms to protect donors and charities from deceptive or misleading solicitations.