’Tis the sea­son for giv­ing — with cau­tion

The Calvert Recorder - - Community Forum -

On Tues­day, many of us prob­a­bly doled out dol­lars to a char­i­ta­ble cause. Fol­low­ing on the heels of big spend­ing days like Black Fri­day, Small Busi­ness Satur­day and Cy­ber Mon­day, Giv­ing Tues­day was a day to give pause in our fre­netic hol­i­day pur­suit of gift shop­ping and re­mem­ber to set aside a por­tion of our funds for a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion or in­sti­tu­tion that may be near and dear to our hearts.

But giv­ing gen­er­ously doesn’t al­ways equate to giv­ing wisely.

The Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Di­vi­sion of the Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice warns Mary­lan­ders to be ex­tra vig­i­lant when do­nat­ing this hol­i­day sea­son, as it is a time of year when sham fundrais­ers crop up look­ing to take ad­van­tage of the good in­ten­tions of oth­ers.

If you sus­pect some­thing is a sham, con­tact the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice so it can in­ves­ti­gate and po­ten­tially take le­gal ac­tion against the scam­mers — as it did in the win­ter of 2016 right here in South­ern Mary­land.

A fraud­u­lent group known as the South­ern Mary­land Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion falsely claimed to help home­less vet­er­ans in the tri-county area and would so­licit dona­tions out­side store­fronts while pre­sent­ing forged doc­u­ments to donors claim­ing the group was reg­is­tered with the sec­re­tary of state, which is re­quired for all char­i­ties solic­it­ing in Mary­land. It was not reg­is­tered, in fact, and per­haps the most egre­gious of­fense was that its or­ga­nizer told donors their hard-earned dol­lars would go to a nonex­is­tent home­less shel­ter in Calvert County.

What’s more, an “as­sis­tant” for the char­ity was found to have re­port­edly em­bez­zled thou­sands of dol­lars, as we re­ported at the time.

It’s hor­ror sto­ries like these that scare peo­ple out of do­nat­ing to ac­tual wor­thy causes, and that’s not our in­ten­tion. We sim­ply join with state of­fi­cials in urg­ing cau­tion when some­one says they rep­re­sent a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion and asks for cash this Christ­mas.

Ear­lier this year, the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice joined a na­tion­wide ini­tia­tive aimed at crack­ing down on phony fundrais­ers, called “Op­er­a­tion Do­nate with Honor.” The ef­fort also pro­motes con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion in how to rec­og­nize fraud­u­lent char­i­ties and iden­tify le­git­i­mate ones.

In our Nov. 23 edi­tion, we printed a list of tips the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Di­vi­sion of­fers those who plan to do­nate this hol­i­day sea­son. But it bears re­peat­ing:

• Check whether the or­ga­ni­za­tion is reg­is­tered with the Mary­land Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice (Tip: Search the Mary­land Char­i­ties Data­base at https://sos. mary­land.gov/Char­ity/Pages/SearchChar­ity.aspx).

• Don’t be rushed. Unscrupulous call­ers want to get money fast.

• Ask for the full name, ad­dress and phone num­ber of the char­ity.

• Ask for what pur­pose the con­tri­bu­tion will be made. If the do­na­tion is so­licited by an or­ga­ni­za­tion on be­half of an­other char­ity, ask how much ac­tu­ally is given to that char­ity.

Here are some red flags that a do­na­tion may not be go­ing to a le­git­i­mate char­ity:

• The or­ga­ni­za­tion re­fuses to pro­vide writ­ten ma­te­rial or fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion (or says they need a good-faith con­tri­bu­tion be­fore shar­ing this in­for­ma­tion).

• The so­lic­i­tor of­fers to send a courier to col­lect the con­tri­bu­tion.

• You re­ceive an in­voice or bill for a pledge you never made.

• The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name and logo closely re­sem­ble an­other char­ity with a sim­i­lar pur­pose.

With this ad­vice in mind, we can all help spot and stop char­i­ta­ble so­lic­i­ta­tion fraud, and make sure our dol­lars set aside for char­ity ac­tu­ally go to­ward help­ing those we in­tend them for — be they vet­er­ans, sick chil­dren, shel­ter an­i­mals, or what­ever other no­table cause moves us to give — lo­cally, na­tion­ally or even in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Now go forth and con­tinue to give gen­er­ously. Just be alert while you do.

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