Holiday Season A Busy Time For Charity Scams

BERLIN – The arrival of the holiday season signals a time for charitably giving and donations to those less, but local law enforcement officials this week warned it can also be a time for the criminal element to prey on the community’s collective good nature.

Perhaps more than any time of the year, the holiday season presents an abundance of opportunities for those with more in the community to share with those who have less. While most charity organizations are worthy causes on the up and up, many are not legitimate and others are often imitated by a criminal element in society for personal gain. Local law enforcement officials this week took the opportunity of the arrival of the holiday season to warn generous segments of the population to be on the lookout for the latter.

“During the holiday, most people are the giving mood and reach out to charities and causes more than they do at other times of the year,” said Colonel Doug Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. “Unfortunately, there are those who prey on the giving nature of others this time of year.”

Dods warned area residents to be vigilant of scams and schemes and to use common sense when it comes to charitable donations. He said some individuals seeking donations are flat out phony, while others present themselves as representatives of known charitable organizations. He urged a common sense approach to making donations during the holidays.

“First of all, if its not something you are soliciting yourself, than it’s probably a good idea to just stay away from it,” he said. “I’d be reluctant to donate to an unsolicited charity. Seek out what you want to donate to and do a little homework first. Don’t just give to anybody and everybody that knocks on your door or approaches you out in public at a mall or shopping center, for example.”

Dods encouraged residents to ask for credentials, identification, phone numbers and other contact information from charity solicitors.

“Try not to get put on the spot,” he said. “If you do, check out their credentials and ask for printed information and phone numbers so you can check out if they are legitimate. If they are legit, they’ll gladly provide you with all of the information. If they pressure you to make a donation right then and there, say thanks but no thanks and walk away. If they’re legit, they won’t mind providing you with the information.”

Dods said the proliferation of the Internet has led to a different type of holiday charity scam. He said beware of any and all email solicitations and avoid making any donations on line.

“Even if they are legitimate, many of those sites aren’t secure and your bank information, Social Security numbers, account numbers and other personal information can get out there. In other cases, sometimes organizations that aren’t legit share that information with others.”

Ocean City Police public information officer Mike Levy agreed and said the same is true for phone solicitations for charity.

“You have to use common sense when it comes to giving to charities, at all times of the year,” he said. “Don’t give out your bank information, your Social Security numbers, account numbers or passwords over the phone. Take down contact information and do a little research before you give to anything.”

Levy said other typical scams include individuals calling on behalf of a financial institution such as a bank or credit card company asking one to verify personal information.

“You should never give out vital information over the phone,” he said.