Charity Scam Attempts Expected To Increase Over Holidays

OCEAN CITY — The arrival of the holiday season means more opportunities for charitable giving and donations to those less fortunate, but it also signals a time for a criminal element to take advantage of the collective good will in the community.

More than at any other time of the year, the holiday season presents numerous opportunities for those with more to share with those with less. While most charitable organizations are on the up and up, others are often imitated by a criminal element in the area for personal gain. It’s a problem everywhere and law enforcement officials are keenly aware of the potential scams.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said this week his office is working in partnership with law enforcement to reduce the potential for holiday charity scams.

“Scammers are always trying to stay ahead of the game, but it’s our job to keep the public informed so they don’t fall prey to these malicious crimes that can take the joy out of the holiday season,” he said.

Closer to home, Ocean City Police are aware of the charity scams that pop up each season and encourage local residents to report incidents during which they feel their generous nature is being compromised. OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard this week encouraged residents to open their hearts and wallets this season, and offered some tips on how to avoid the scams being promulgated this year.

“We would never want to discourage anyone from opening their hearts and giving to a charity during the holiday season,” she said. “Ocean City residents love to give and help those less fortunate in our community.”

As usual, common sense can prevent one from becoming a victim of charity scams during the holidays and at all times of the year. While some individuals seeking donations are flat out phony, others have their roots in legitimate organizations and mimic that legitimacy for their own gain. O’Neal said some simple research can help charitable individuals separate the legitimate charities from those seeking to take advantage of the holiday season.

“Those that do donate should keep in mind that scammers are out there taking advantage of the holiday giving spirit,” she said. “The best way to donate is to only give money to organizations that you are familiar with. Be sure to research any charities you are not familiar with before opening your wallets.”

Richard reminded potential donors to ask for business cards and contact information. She said it was important to research charities before making a donation and, when in doubt, give to those organizations one is familiar with.

“Legitimate charities will have printed materials and a wealth of information about what they do,” she said. “Citizens should also keep in mind that it is always best to write a check made out to the organization rather than handing over cash.”

The proliferation of Internet-based scams is often confusing and the safest method of giving during the holiday season is to pick a favorite charity, become familiar with what they do and how the money is spent, and stick to those one knows best. Other scammers are following the tried and true random phone calls to carry out their ruses, but Richard warned about giving out personal information over the phone.

“Never give your credit card information over the phone,” she said. “There is a chance the person on the other side of the phone may not be who you think it is.”