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Here are some ways to avoid fraud and charity scams over the holidays, says AG Bonta

Attorney General Bonta has primary regulatory oversight of charities and the professional fundraisers who solicit on their behalf in California


By ONME Newswire

SACRAMENTO, Calif.-- Under Government Code section 12598, the Attorney General may investigate and bring legal action against charities that misuse charitable assets or engage in fraudulent fundraising practices. In providing this week’s tips, Attorney General Bonta encourages donors to take the necessary steps to ensure that their donations get into the correct hands.

“Every holiday season, the generosity of Californians is on full display. Up and down our state, they donate their time and hard-earned money to charitable organizations doing incredibly important work. The Downtown Women’s Center is one of those organizations, and I want to thank them for partnering with us as we share tips to avoid charity scams,” said Attorney General Bonta. “At a time when California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportions, we recognize and appreciate the commitment of the Downtown Women’s Center in serving women experiencing homelessness. As a reminder, if you believe that a charity or fundraiser is engaged in misconduct, please report it immediately at oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.”


In a 2022 analysis of e-commerce transactions, TransUnion found that the most popular day for attempted online fraud was Black Friday, or November 25, in both the U.S. and Canada. In the United Kingdom, however, the most popular day for attempted online fraud in 2022 was Cyber Monday, November 28.

Globally, between November 24 (U.S. Thanksgiving) and November 28 (Cyber Monday), the most prevalent fraud attempts in 2022 were promotion abuse, where users tried to scam refer-a-friend or free giveaways, and account takeovers. During November 24-28, 2022, there was a 127% increase in the daily volume of fraud attempts in the U.S. compared to January 1-November 23, 2022.


According to a 2022 study by AARP, 76%, or roughly three out of four U.S. adults over 18, have been targeted by at least one form of fraud. Of the respondents, 39% received a request from a charity that felt fake or fraudulent. 35% experienced fraud while buying a product through an online ad, and 29% received a phony notification about a fake shipment issue. An additional 27% of respondents had a package stolen, and 12% experienced fraud when booking travel.

41% of respondents said they believed the ads they saw on social media were safe or were unsure about an ad’s trustworthiness.

Four out of five young adults, or 81% of 18- to 34-year-olds who responded to AARP’s survey, reported that they had experienced at least one form of fraud. Comparatively, only 71% of people aged 35 to 44 and 78% of people aged 45 to 64 say they have been the victims of a scam. And only 69% of people over age 65 say they have been victims.

According to AARP, 55% of respondents between 18 and 34 said they had made a purchase through a social media ad in the last year, while 48% of people aged 35 to 44 and 34% of people aged 45 to 64 said the same. Of those who used an online ad to buy something, 18- to 34-year-olds and 45- to 64-year-olds were most likely to experience fraud (38% each). Comparatively, 35- to 44-year-olds and those over 65 experienced the least fraud after clicking an online ad (31% and 28%, respectively).


Here on some tips on how to donate safely and 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 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. Review the charity’s annual financial reports to find out how much of your donation will actually be spent on the charitable cause, as well as how much, or if any, will go to overhead and employee compensation. Research charities in your community and support those that make a positive impact.

  • Don’t Be Pressured by Telemarketers: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, do not fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember, you have the right to decline a donation request and can hang up. If you are interested in donating to a particular organization, you can visit their website or contact them directly to get more information.

  • Be Cautious of "Look-Alike" and Fake Websites and Emails: Be on the lookout for websites and emails that use slightly different web addresses (URLs) or email addresses in order to pass off as a legitimate charity. Scammers sometimes purchase these types of URLs or create fake email accounts in order to trick potential donors into donating to a look-alike website or steal your information. Be careful of fake websites by closely looking at the web address, and be cautious of web addresses that end in a series of numbers. If a charity’s website or email is asking for your detailed personal information — such as your Social Security Number, date of birth, or your bank account number — it may likely be 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 Peer-to-Peer Social Network Fundraising: Do not assume charitable fundraising that you see online or on social media are legitimate, even if the charitable campaign is shared by someone that you trust. If you plan to donate through a social network solicitation, do your research and find out whether your donation is going directly to a charity or to the person who created the campaign, whether the person who created the campaign will keep a portion of your donation, or if you will be charged a fee for donating.

  • Protect Your Identity: Never give your Social Security number, credit card information, or other personal identifiable information in response to a charitable solicitation. Some organizations may sell or rent their donor lists to other organizations, including organizations that are not charities. Before making a donation, review the charity’s privacy policy to find out if your information will be shared with outside companies.

  • Be Careful When Making Electronic Donations: Electronic donations — such as donations made via text, QR Codes, and portable credit 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 portable 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/online payment method] statement to ensure that the transaction charged to your account is accurate.

AARP’s 2022 study found that a majority (64%) of the U.S. adults surveyed knew that using a credit card rather than a debit card was a safer option when making online purchases. 72% of respondents said they planned to use a credit card to make purchases, up from 67% in 2021. 68% said they planned to use cash (up from 67% in 2021), while 67% planned to use a debit card (down from 69% in 2021). Only 16% each planned to use personal or electronic checks (down from 17% in 2021 for electronic checks and up from 13% for personal checks).

According to the FBI, credit card fraud accounted for $264 million in losses in 2022, and non-payment and non-delivery scams cost an additional $281 million that year.


For more information on how to protect yourself against charity fraud, visit our donation tips webpage at https://oag.ca.gov/donations.

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