ELLSWORTH — There’s nothing like a Christmas scam to sour your eggnog.
In a season when many generous souls open their wallets to give to those in need, an unfortunate few are learning their donations are going to line criminal pockets.
“Because many people choose to support charities this time of year, criminals are especially active during the holidays in trying to take advantage of the generosity of others,” said Governor Paul LePage.
LePage and Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Commissioner Anne Head encourage Maine residents to research charitable organizations before making a contribution.
Many charities are required to be licensed with the state Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which collects information about charitable activity in Maine and makes it available to the public. A quick check with the office can provide information to help in determining whether a charity is real or a scam.
Head advises potential donors to ask questions and seek printed information about unknown charities, to confirm their legitimacy with licensing officials, to never send cash or wire money when requested to do so, to always keep receipts of donations and to report concerns or complaints about questionable solicitations to the Department and law enforcement.
Information about charities can be found at www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions/charitable. Questions and complaints can also be made by calling the Charitable Solicitations Program at 624-8525.
Additional tips and advice when considering charitable giving:
- Not all organizations with names that sound like charities are actually charities. Some scammers select names that are similar to those of well-known charities.
- Whether a charity is new or well-established, you may wish to know what percentage of your contribution is spent on fundraising and other expenses that don’t directly support the charity’s stated purpose.
- Be cautious when contacted by telephone for a contribution. Ask that the request be put in writing. You may also want to ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer.
- Never give your bank account information or credit/debit card numbers to a caller. And be wary if the person soliciting the contribution is willing to have someone rush to your home or business to meet with you and pick up a contribution.
- If you wish to receive a tax deduction, make sure the organization has a tax-deductible status with the Internal Revenue Service. “Tax-exempt,” “nonprofit” and “tax-deductible” mean different things. Only “tax-deductible” means contributions are deductible on your income tax return. Visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov/charities) for more information.
- Be wary of organizations that list only post office boxes or mail drop suite numbers as their address. You may wish to inquire about the charity’s location.