BERLIN – The holiday season signals a time for charitable giving and donations to those less fortunate, but local law enforcement officials this week warned residents and visitors it can also be a time for the area’s criminal element to prey on the collective good nature in the community.
More than any other time of the year, the holiday season provides an abundance of opportunities for those with more to share with those who have less in the community. While most charitable organizations are legitimate, others are often imitated by a criminal element in society for personal gain. While local law enforcement officials this week did not discourage area residents and visitors from opening their hearts, and their wallets, they did offer a few tips on how to avoid being the victim of one of the many scams unfortunately being carried out in the community.
“More than any other time of the year, the holidays present many opportunities to share with others less fortunate, and that’s obviously a good thing,” said Colonel Doug Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. “Unfortunately, there’s a certain criminal element in the community that is aware of this and try to take advantage of the generosity in the community.”
Dods warned residents and visitors to the area to use common sense when it came to holiday giving. He said some individuals seeking donations are just plain phony while others have their roots in legitimate organizations but bend the rules of decency for their own gain.
“The best thing to do is pick a charity that you know and trust,” he said. “Most people have their favorites and take steps to ensure what they are giving is going to where it is supposed to go and is being used for the purposes expressed by the recipients.”
Dods warned residents and visitors to avoid handing out money or making donations to solicitors who aren’t on the up and up. He urged generous citizens to do a little homework on their prospective recipients.
“They should have hand-outs and other information about their organization if they’re legit,” he said. “Do a little homework. Ask for brochures and pamphlets and, more importantly, a business card with contact information. Don’t make a donation right away. Go back and do a little research and make some calls to see if they are legitimate before you hand over your money.”
Dods said legitimate charities will almost always have literature to hand out with a description of the agency, what they do and where the money or other donations will go. If they don’t, it should be a red flag for prospective donors.
“They should have some sort of hand-out if they’re legitimate,” he said. “If they don’t, or if they refuse to give you their name or a contact number, they’re probably not. If they are legit, they will gladly provide you with information about their charity. If they are forceful about, they’re probably fraudulent.”
Dods encouraged would-be donors to use the Internet to research charitable organizations. A quick search can provide lists of what organizations are real and where and how the money or other donations are used. On the other hand, Dods warned residents to avoid making donations on line.
“Most of those organizations are legitimate, but the problem is many of their sites are not secure and your bank information, Social Security numbers, account numbers and personal information can get out there,” he said. “In some cases, organizations that are legitimate inadvertently share that information with those that aren’t.”
Ocean City Police Department spokesperson Jessica Waters agreed there are certain red flags to avoid during the holiday giving season.
“Obviously, it’s great to give during the holidays and at all times of the year if you have the means, but, unfortunately, there is an element in the community that wants to take advantage of that generosity,” she said. “It’s unfortunate because there are so many legitimate organizations and causes out there that really rely on the generosity of others, but many people have been burned and are reluctant to give because of all of the scams and frauds out there.”
Waters said the OCPD has already received calls from concerned citizens in the community about unsolicited requests for donations by less than reputable sources.
“The best advice is to pick a charity or organization of your choice and make sure they’re legitimate before you give,” she said. “Ask for literature and ask for a contact person. Don’t give right away. Do a little research and make informed decisions. If they’re legitimate, they won’t mind coming back at another time when you’ve had a chance to check them out.”
Waters warned residents to be wary of offers for donations or solicitations that make big promises.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “If something seems suspicious, by all means call us or call your local law enforcement agency. Too often, we hear about these things after the fact and the people have already been victimized. If you sense something isn’t quite right, turn them away and let us know about it. You might prevent somebody else, your neighbor maybe, from being victimized.”