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It’s Christmas. Do you know where your charitable donations are going?

Auburn area not immune to scams, questionable charities taking advantage of yule spirit
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The holiday period is a time of peace on Earth, goodwill to men and a huge increase in people’s charitable giving.

And while it’s a crucial time for many charities it also brings out its share of questionable calls for funds, experts say.

Placer County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jim Hudson, a two-time California Financial Crimes Investigators Association investigator of the year, said there is no reason to discourage people from being generous during a traditional period of giving.

“But at this time of year, a lot of claims have to be taken with a grain of salt,” Hudson said.

Hudson said people in the mood to donate can put their trust in tried-and-true programs, such as the Salvation Army kettles.

“While I don’t want to single out any one group, there are certain organizations that are nationally known for doing the right thing,” Hudson said. “There are ways on the Internet to find out about an organization.”

For instance, bogus charities looking for a way to skim off valuable dollars from other organizations will create spoof Websites and organizations that may use a name similar to a well-regarded group. They may go so far as to create logos that mimic – but don’t completely replicate – the look of an upstanding non profit, Hudson said.

One good example is the American Heart Association, an organization that has been shadowed for donor dollars by a fund-raising ploy of the so-called Federation of National Heart Associations, Hudson said.

On a local level, even a group closely linked to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office – the Placer County Search and Rescue group – has been hit with fund-raising interference from an Oregon entity that claims it is a national search and rescue organization that gives to the Placer County group, Hudson said.

“But the Placer County group has no affiliation and has never been provided with any of the proceeds,” Hudson said. “It’s really about investigating and paying attention.”

Donation season goes into overdrive Tuesday when “Giving Tuesday” follows “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday.”

Charities report receiving 24 percent of their yearly donations in the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the National Philanthropic Trust states. A total of 30 percent of online donations are made during the same time period, the organization cites in a statement.

“But many people will make the mistake of reflexively choosing charities to donate to,” Eileen Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust said.

Heisman, a 30-year-long giving expert and head of one of the 25 largest grant-making institutions in the U.S., suggests making a list of the causes that are most important to a donor and take the time to determine which giving vehicle is right for you.

The Auburn Kiwanis is one of the local Auburn groups that has a long-standing donor base of support that gets sweetened at Christmas time when it opens its See’s Candies storefront. For the third year in a row it will be at the Raley’s shopping center.

Daniel Berlant, an Auburn Kiwanis Club member, said the chocolates and other See’s treats are made available through the company and sold at the same prices as those in stores. The difference is that 30 percent of the price goes to the Kiwanis Club, he said.

The funding goes toward supporting numerous different community organizations and clubs, including reading programs at local Auburn elementary schools, scholarships for graduating seniors, hospital bags for children and the Auburn Education Foundation.

Berlant said that the Kiwanis drive hasn’t been hit with any recent problems with scams.

“On the positive side, the club is partnering with the California National Guard to provide See’s for Soldiers,” Berlant said. The program allows shoppers to purchase candy and have it packed and shipped to soldiers overseas.