’Tis the season for giving — with caution
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.