Marisa was walking into a Santa Monica supermarket this month when a man with a clipboard intercepted her. “Would you like to help victims of the wildfires?” he asked.

Marisa was concerned about the thousands of people affected by the recent California fires, and was eager to do anything to assist them. But she wanted some information first. She asked the man for the name of his organization.

“The California Fire Collection,” he answered promptly.

Marisa thought that sounded suspicious, so she didn’t give the man any money. And she was right. It seems that for every legitimate charity collecting donations, there’s another with questionable credentials. With so many requests for donations – online, by phone, and at stores – it pays to ask questions.

Two key questions to ask are whether the organization is legitimate, and how much of your donation will go to the actual cause? Some solicitors are committing out-and-out fraud. Other organizations are legitimate charities – but they spend a lot of their donations on employee salaries, fundraising, or other administrative costs.

Scammers often employ similar tactics – they take advantage of the sympathies of consumers; they use high-pressure methods to get donations quickly; and they don’t provide much information about the organizations they’re allegedly trying to benefit. Fraudsters often adopt “charity” names that are very similar to reputable organizations, so be sure to listen and read carefully when you’re being solicited!

Consider these tips before donating to a charity:

  • Get its exact name, address, phone number and website.
  • Go to org or a similar service to see if it’s legitimate.
  • Search the exact name of the group online — and also with the word “complaint” or “scam.” This can provide fast information about its reputation.
  • Contact the organization and ask whether the solicitor is authorized.

Here are more ideas for managing your charitable donations:

  • Keep records of your donations.
  • Make an annual plan, and decide in advance which organizations will receive your donations.
  • Learn about the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” An organization may be except from taxes, but that doesn’t mean you can deduct your donation on your own tax return.
  • Never donate with cash or a wire transfer.
  • Don’t provide your account or other personal information unless you’re very familiar with the organization.
  • Know that if you text to donate, the charge will show up on your mobile phone bill.

Donating to charitable organizations can help people in need, but it’s important to do your homework to ensure your dollars are going to the causes you want to support – and not into the pockets of scammers. If you have questions about individuals or organizations soliciting for charity in Santa Monica, call the Consumer Protection Division at 310-458-8336, or visit