Attorney general issues tips, warnings to avoid charitable donation scams | News | Palo Alto Online |


Attorney general issues tips, warnings to avoid charitable donation scams


California Attorney General Kamala Harris has issued some tips and warnings to help consumers make sure their holiday-season donations go to worthy causes and not to swindlers.

The most important safeguard, Harris said in an advisory issued this week, is to do some research to make sure that a charity to which you are considering donating is legitimate and trustworthy.

Don't assume that recommendations on social media such as Facebook and blogs are legitimate, Harris advises.

Instead, one can consult online reports compiled by several nonprofit groups dedicated to documenting charity accountability.

These groups include the Wise Giving Alliance at, the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation at or the American Institute of Philanthropy at

Harris's office has also compiled a Guide to Charitable Giving, available here.

Harris advises that charitable contributions should be made directly on a charity's website when possible. If you donate by means of a check, write the full name of the charity rather than initials or an abbreviation. Do not give your credit card number to a telephone solicitor or in response to any unsolicited phone call you receive.

If you receive an email or text message asking for a donation to a charity, contact the charity directly to make sure the request is legitimate.

If a solicitor contacts you on behalf of a charity, ask whether he or she works for a commercial fundraiser, and whether the commercial fundraising company is registered with the state Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts. It is illegal for unregistered commercial fundraisers to solicit donors in California.

You can also ask what percentage of donations goes directly to the charity and how much is spent on fundraising and administrative expenses. You may prefer to avoid fundraising commissions by contacting the charity directly to make a secure donation. If a solicitor tells you a donation is for your local police, firefighter or other public safety agency, check directly with the law enforcement agency to avoid a potential scam, Harris advises.

Another tip is to be wary of car donation solicitations. Car donations often result in minimal returns to charities because of the high cost of advertising and other expenses associated with marketing the vehicles for re-sale, Harris said.

If you do decide to donate a car, ask the car donation fundraiser or charity to inform you of every donation designated to you and to provide records of the gift. Call the charity that was supposed to benefit to make sure it received the donation.

In a separate announcement issued on Tuesday, Harris noted that lawyers in her office sued two Southern California car-donation charities for allegedly misrepresenting their charitable programs and improperly profiting from supposedly charitable activities.

One lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles-based People's Choice Charities spent 97 percent of its donation proceeds on staff, towing, car repair and advertising. A second lawsuit alleged that Ventura-based Cars 4 Causes spent 87 percent of donations on such expenses. Both organizations were also accused of misreporting the amount given to charities.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


3 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 3, 2015 at 11:52 am

Give to local charities where you can see the work that is happening. My personal favorite is Ravenswood Education Foundation. They are doing great work supporting students in East Palo Alto who are bright and able, but need the same kinds of resources for their education that students in PAUSD just expect.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm

When given the options to use credit card, PayPal, or mail a check, which is best?
I write a check, so they don't get stuck with the few-percent processing charge.
But maybe the charity spends extra opening mail and moving paper.
When I ask, they always say no difference to them.

Along the lines of cost, is it better to send $20 to 20 charities, or $400 to one charity?
Once I donate, the organization often mails me at least $20 worth of appeals over the following year, so it seems that small donations are not cost effective. But maybe the number of donors is important to them. Alumni funds, for instance, pride themselves for high participation rates, even if the amounts are small.

How about attribution? Do you want to be listed as a donor in their publication, or be anonymous? There's value in a charity being able to show that a community of real names supports them.

Real questions of mine, and seems like a good place to get educated opinions.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

'Are they ready for fully innovative Indian food?' Ettan arrives in Palo Alto with chaat, caviar and a secret menu
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 3,596 views

Flying: How to lower your impact
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 2,564 views

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,092 views

Goodbye toy stores
By Cheryl Bac | 12 comments | 1,668 views

Pseudo-Primary for CA Senate District 13: some thoughts
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 1,293 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details