BERLIN — The arrival of the holiday season signals a time for more charitable giving and donations to those less fortunate, but local law enforcement officials this week are warning residents and visitors the season also signals a time for the area’s criminal element to prey on the collective good nature in the community.
More than at any other time of the year, the holiday season presents an abundance of opportunities for those with more to share with those with less. While most charitable organizations are legitimate, others are often imitated by a criminal element in the community for personal gain. While local law enforcement officials this week did not discourage area residents from opening their hearts and their wallets, they did offer a few tips on how to avoid being a victim to one of the many scams being carried out in the community.
“More than at any time other time of the year, the holidays offer plenty of opportunities to share with those less fortunate, and we certainly wouldn’t discourage that,” said Worcester County Sheriff Department Colonel Doug Dods. “Unfortunately, there is a criminal element in the community ready to prey on that spirit of generosity.”
Dods urged local residents and visitors to use common sense when it comes to holiday giving. While some individuals seeking donations are flat out phony, others have their roots in legitimate organizations and utilize that legitimacy for their own gain. Ocean City Police Department spokesperson Jessica Waters agreed.
“There are a thousand scams out there, but during the holiday time, when people are most charitable, they can be more prevalent,” she said this week.”
Dods said the safest method of giving during the holidays is to pick a favorite charity or charities, become familiar with what they do and how they collect donations, and stick with them.
“The best thing to do is to pick one you know and trust,” he said. “Most people have their favorites and they know what they do and that what they are giving is going to the intended purpose.”
Local law enforcement officials this week warned area residents to avoid handing over cash or making donations to solicitors who aren’t on the up and up. Legitimate charities will always be able to provide printed material with contact information and explanation of what they do and where the money goes.
“If they’re legit, they will gladly hand over contact information for themselves and their supervisors,” said Dods. “If they are resistant to providing more information or pamphlets and brochures, they’re probably not. The best thing to do is collect the information and go back and call them or check their websites before making a donation. If they’re legit, they won’t mind providing information and will probably welcome more investigation.”
Common sense is the best safeguard against getting caught up in a charity scam during the holidays, but many in the community let their guard down during hectic season. Waters warned residents to never give out credit card or debit card information over the phone and always be sure the solicitors are who they claim to be.
“If someone calls you directly, hang up and call the charity directly to verify the claim,” she said. “Always remember that charity scammers will use familiar names of local charities so that you believe you are giving to a local cause.”
Waters also warned about just handing over money when making charitable donations. Most scammers prefer cash donations because there is no paper trail with a check and fewer chances to get caught.
“When it comes down to making a donation, always make your monetary contributions by check and be sure to make your check payable to the organization, not the individual. You should always research the charity and make sure it is one you can trust. Also, it doesn’t hurt to check with the IRS or the Better Business Bureau because all charities must register their donations.”
Dods also urged 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 donations they collect are used. On the other hand, Dods warned residents to avoid making donations on-line.
“Most of the charitable organizations are legitimate, but in some cases, their sites are not secure and your personal information, such as Social Security numbers, account numbers and other personal information can get out there,” he said. “In some cases, organizations that are legitimate inadvertently share your information with those that aren’t.”
Waters also warned aggressive solicitors should probably signal a red flag.
“Don’t give in to the pressure,” she said. “Most scammers will insist that you must give today, but any true charity will welcome your donation at any time, so there is no need to rush before doing your homework.”