Avoiding Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

Avoiding Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

The San Diego County District Attorney’s office sent out an alert today to warn San Diego County residents to be careful when donating to charities that promise to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The DA’s Office is offering important consumer advice and information to avoid becoming a victim of charity scams. [TWEET THIS]

“We have such a caring community in San Diego County that wants to help those in need during a crisis, like this latest natural disaster that’s taking such a toll in Texas and Louisiana,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Unfortunately, some people use times of crisis to take advantage of others. People who want to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey by donating to charities can protect themselves from scammers by watching out for red flags.”

When donating, it’s a best practice not to respond to any solicitation. Instead, if you are inclined to help – donate on your own to a known charity or help group that is known to assist in these types of events. If the solicitor persuades you to donate, don’t commit at that moment; check them out, first – then donate. Acting based upon a cold call is never wise.

Always do your research to avoid becoming a victim of a charity scam. The Federal Trade Commission has published important tips and information on how to do that, including a link to Charity Navigator, which has a list of organizations that are responding in the aftermath of the storm.

The FTC provides the following charity checklist of precautions to make sure your donation benefits the people and organizations you want to help:

  • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online – especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”– is one way to learn about its reputation.
  • Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  • Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, orGuideStar.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask:
    • The name of the charity they represent
    • The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
    • How much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating
    • How much will go to the fundraiser
  • Keep a record of your donations.
  • Make an annual donation plan. That way, you can decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive your donations.
  • Visit this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
  • Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check – made payable to the charity – or by credit card.
  • Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Do not provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.
  • What about texting? If you text to donate, the charge will show up on your mobile phone bill. If you’ve asked your mobile phone provider to block premium text messages – texts that cost extra – then you won’t be able to donate this way.

The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a way to reduce telemarketing calls, but it exempts charities and political groups. However, if a fundraiser is calling on behalf of a charity, you may ask not to get any more calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If those calls continue, the fundraiser may be subject to a fine.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a charity scam or if a fundraiser has violated Do Not Call rules,file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Your complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing and lead to investigations and prosecutions.

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Sentencing Highlights Rise in Overdose Deaths

Sentencing Highlights Rise in Overdose Deaths

A man who sold heroin to a San Diego woman, leading to her fatal overdose, was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in local prison. [TWEET THIS]

Marc Gressingh, 36, pleaded guilty on June 13, 2017, to selling heroin and a prior conviction for narcotics sales. A judge split the eight year sentence into one year of custody and seven years of mandatory supervision.

The sentencing comes as more people are dying each year in San Diego County from accidental overdose or substance abuse intoxication of opioids, part of a national epidemic.

Deaths in the County from opioid abuse have roughly doubled in the last 15 years.

“An addiction to prescription drug opiates often leads people to begin abusing heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We’re responding to the opioid addiction crisis that is claiming the very lives of so many in our community and stealing the promise of their future by combating this issue on multiple fronts.”

[RELATED: The DA’s Office is taking a closer look at the fatal prescription drug abuse epidemic and what’s being done to fight it, in a series of short videos.]

Today’s sentencing is the culmination of a criminal case that began the morning of March 11, 2016. The San Diego Police Department responded to a reported death at a residence in San Diego. Paramedics on scene tried to revive the victim, Rebecca Mercurio, 31, however their efforts were unsuccessful and Ms. Mercurio died as a result of a heroin overdose. Based on initials reports that Ms. Mercurio had purchased the heroin in the East County area, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department took over the investigation into her death. After an extensive and lengthy investigation, Sheriff’s Department Det. Jacob Sanchez was able to determine the defendant had sold Ms. Mercurio the lethal heroin at a taco shop in East County on the night of March 10, 2016.

“Prosecutions like this send the message that when you sell heroin to another human being, you are literally providing them with toxic poison that can slow their breathing to the point of death. We also focus on prevention through education and on providing important programs that work to get defendants who have substance abuse issues help through Collaborative Court programs like Drug Court, Behavioral Health Court and Veterans Court,” DA Stephan said.

According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner, the increase in heroin deaths seen since 2005/2006 has continued, and heroin was the most common drug seen in those between the ages of 20 and 29 over the past five years. In 2015, 90 people died of heroin doses in San Diego County. [TWEET THIS]

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is help and resources at www.sandiegorxabusetaskforce.org.

$6 Million Grant to Help Prop. 47 Offenders

DA Stephan is Working to Stop the Revolving Door to Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that a $6 million grant will go toward services and programs designed to keep individuals from recycling through the criminal justice system in San Diego County.

The three-year grant was announced at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday where DA Stephan explained how the District Attorney Office’s is involved in the grant-funded programs.[TWEET THIS]

“Within the justice system, we see people who commit non-violent theft and drug crimes triggered by their struggle with mental illness and chemical addiction,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan.  “This grant will help give them a second chance to recover and can lower recidivism, contributing to a safer community. Some offenders under Proposition 47 are repeatedly cycling through the justice system. These programs provide access to treatment and housing through collaboration with our justice and community partners and address the underlying causes of their criminal conduct.”

San Diego County Health and Human Services as well as the District Attorney’s CARE Center will link individuals to community programs and services under the grant. In addition to substance abuse treatment, the programs will link people to mental and physical health services and offer supportive services to meet their needs.  These could include job training, education, a peer coach, transportation or help with getting a government ID card.  Those with housing needs will receive a housing assessment and the help of a housing navigator.  The project will offer rapid rehousing, a service approach that has been demonstrated to work for this population.

In North County misdemeanor court, for example, a team – including prosecutors and defense attorneys –will identify people convicted of or facing sentences for drug or property crimes, for which substance abuse appears to be a related factor.

“These individuals will be offered an in person meeting with a service provider stationed just steps away from the courtroom,” DA Stephan said.  “They will not need to make an appointment or travel to another location.  If they are ready, help will be available right away.” [TWEET THIS]

The District Attorney’s CARE Center is also working to support the goals of the Proposition 47 grant program.  The CARE Center is a community hub for accessing services in Southeastern San Diego.  Learn more about the CARE Center in this video.