Three men who claimed they were raising money for charities while panhandling on the Third Street Promenade were allegedly unaffiliated with the organizations and are now facing criminal charges, local authorities said Thursday.
"It’s the season for opportunistic criminals but ‘tis not the season for them here in Santa Monica," said Deputy City Attorney Gary W. Rhoades.
For "a long time," the men were soliciting cash donations for organizations such as the AIDS Health Foundation and Another Chance Ministry, according to a Santa Monica Police Department spokesman.
Compton resident Rodney Muhammad, 56; Los Angeles resident Derek Haskins, 53; and Santa Monica resident Jerry White, also 53, were arraigned Wednesday on charges of theft by false pretenses, identity theft, false advertising, forgery of a government seal, and aggressive panhandling.
They were taken into custody Nov. 26 on the south end of the Promenade after "they were observed displaying false credentials," the police said.
Rhoades said investigators are still trying to determine the length of the alleged scam and how much money was taken.
"Consumers should take the time to research any charity before making a donation," he said in a press release. "Don’t make a donation on the street without first calling the organization and verifying that the solicitor is legitimate. You should also check online to make sure the organization itself is legit."
The authorities offered the following tips:
- Call the charity directly to make sure the solicitor is legitimate.
- Find out what percentage of donations actually go to the cause, as opposed to administration and paying the solicitors. (By law, charities are required to disclose this information.)
- When solicited for charity, learn about the organization, its activities and fundraising practices.
- Ask for written information.
- Watch out for copycat scams. Some questionable organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations.