OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Aug. 31 warned Californians of fraudulent charitable and crowdfunding solicitations that may claim to help the victims of Maui’s recent wildfires.
Well-intentioned or otherwise, charities and crowdfunding pages formed overnight as a response to this crisis may lack the experience, contacts, and staff needed to respond to a disaster, or may be fraudulent. Before providing any monetary aid to those claiming to provide direct assistance to victims of this wildfire, Bonta urges Californians to take their time to research before giving.
“During this time of horrific devastation in Maui, we stand in solidarity with its people for their grievous suffering and loss,” said Bonta. “I encourage all Californians to extend a helping hand wherever possible, but be wary of potential scammers who might exploit your generosity and compassion. If you plan to donate resources or money, make sure to do your research on the charity or the crowdfunding organizer so your contributions can go to legitimate causes.
“If you believe that a charity or fundraiser has acted in bad faith, please report it immediately at oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints. As Californians do their part to give to those in need in Maui, we will do our part to protect the integrity of those donations from deceptive solicitations.”
Check the Registration Status: Charities operating in California and 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, which are made available to the public. Before making a donation, make sure to confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with its financial reporting by searching the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts’ database, located here: https://rct.doj.ca.gov/Verification/Web/Search.aspx?facility=Y
Give to Organizations You Trust: Do your research before giving. Review how much the charity spends directly on the charitable cause and how much goes to overhead and employee compensation. If you choose to donate to a charity you are unfamiliar with, contact the charity and ask for information in writing about how it plans to support the Maui fire victims. You should also confirm the charity’s name, address, and its nonprofit status.
Be Wary of Social Network Fundraising or Crowdfunding: If you are planning to donate through a social network solicitation or through Internet platforms, first do some research. Find out if the money is going to a charity, to the platform, or to a person who set up the solicitation. Find out what percentage of your donation is going to the charity or for a charitable cause, and whether you will be charged a fee.
Don’t Be Pressured by Telemarketers. Ask Questions Before Donating: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, ask for the name of the fundraising organization, whether it is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, the name of the charity benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the telemarketer, and the direct telephone number of the charity. Don’t fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember that you have the right to reject the donation appeal and if you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
Watch Out for Similar-Sounding Names, Web Addresses, and Other Deceptive Tactics: Fraudulent organizations may use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations to mislead donors. Look out for fraudulent websites that have a slightly different web address (URL) than that of a legitimate charitable organization. Similar-looking URLs are sometimes purchased by fraudsters to lure in would-be donors. These sites may ask you for personal information or install harmful material onto your device. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you never made, and always check your records.
Understand the Difference Between “Tax-Exempt” and “Tax-Deductible”: Being a nonprofit does not mean the organization is exempt from taxation, or that your donation is tax-deductible. Generally, a tax-exempt organization is exempt from paying tax on its income and gifts, but may or may not be able to offer a charitable tax deduction to donors for their contributions. Just because an organization has a “Tax ID Number” or provides donors with a receipt that says “keep this receipt for your records,” that does not mean that the organization is a charity or tax-exempt, or that your donation is tax-deductible. If you are not sure whether your donation is tax-deductible, verify the charity’s tax-exempt status by using the tools and information located on the IRS website: https://www.irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits
Consider the Costs of Gifts and Merchandise: Gifts that you receive from a charity in exchange for your donation cost money and generally, these expenses are paid from donated funds. The value of the goods and services that you receive for your donation is not tax-deductible. Some charities may sell merchandise online and claim that “100% of the proceeds” will benefit its charitable purpose. However, this does not necessarily mean that 100% of the sales price of the merchandise will go to charity, and the cost of the merchandise itself can greatly reduce the value of your donation.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your donations, check out the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) donation tips webpage at http://oag.ca.gov/donations. Complaints against charities can be filed using DOJ’s charity complaint form, which you can find at http://oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.