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Donors to wildfire victims urged to avoid 'sham charities'

September 2, 2009 | 10:35 am

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown today warned Californians who want to help wildfire victims to avoid "sham charities" that rip off good Samaritans after big disasters.

"After virtually every disaster, scam artists come out of the woodwork to defraud individuals wishing to help victims," Brown said in a news release. "Californians should give only to reputable organizations so their donations don't end up lining the pockets of criminals and opportunists."

Brown said fraudulent and misleading solicitations are common after such events, whether the requests are made by phone, mail or e-mail or in front of stores. He offered the following tips:

-- Closely review disaster-relief appeals before giving.

-- Stick with charities that are reputable rather than those that spring up overnight. If you are unsure, check whether the charity is registered in California with the attorney general's Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee legitimacy but is an important indicator. Information on national charities is available from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at (800) 575-4483.

-- Take action on your own rather than respond to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly by phoning the group or finding its official website, or via regular mail.

-- Listen closely to the name of the group and beware of copycat names that sound like reputable charities.

-- Don't give through e-mail solicitations. Clicking on an e-mail may lead you to a site that looks real but is established by identity thieves seeking to obtain money or personal information.

-- Do not give cash. Make checks out to the charitable organization, not the solicitor.

-- Do not be pressured into giving. Even in times of emergency, reputable organizations do not expect you to contribute immediately if you are unfamiliar with their services.

-- Ask what percentage of donations will be used for charitable activities that help victims and how much will fund administrative and fundraising costs.

-- Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after victims' needs are addressed.