Residents are cautioned to use common sense when dealing with solicitors who claim to represent firefighter associations or others seeking aid for people who have been affected by a fire or disaster. According to The Howard County Office of Consumer Protection, it is important to check where your dollars are going regardless of the cause.
“We hope residents exercise care to identify potential imposters. Even when the organization is legitimate, it’s important to know how much of your donation will actually go to the people you want to help,” said Fire Chief John Butler.
The Office of Consumer Protection offers these tips.
- Take your time. Be wary of high pressure tactics and requests that donations be paid in cash, by pre-paid gift or debit cards or by wire transfer.
- Make sure you are giving your donation to a legitimate organization. Con artists sometimes use names that are similar to well-known organizations; ask for written information about the group’s mission and history or do some independent research.
- Make sure the organization is registered. In Maryland, nonprofit fundraisers must register with the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) before asking for donations. The SOS’s website (http://sos.maryland.gov/Charity/Pages/default.aspx) enables the public to see if the organization is registered and provides links to other sites that will offer assistance in making your donation decisions.
- Ask whether the person calling represents the charity or a professional fundraiser and find out what percentage of your donation will be used for “administrative costs” or “overhead.” It is not uncommon for fundraising companies to take 80% (or more) of every donation. Sending your donation directly to the organization instead of the fundraiser can help maximize the impact of your gift.
- Check on the charity’s reputation, using sites like www.charitynavigator.org and www.givewell.org, which rank charities based on efficiency, transparency and accountability.
- Ask how any information you provide will be used. Many organizations continue to contact donors after a donation and may sell or rent your contact information to other organizations. If you are frequently contacted by organizations you do not wish to donate to, ask them to put your name on a “Do Not Call” list.
Residents who have lost money or feel their personal safety is at risk due to a scam should contact the Howard County Police Department’s non-emergency phone number at 410-313-2200 to file a report.
For more information and/or to report a potential scam, contact the Office of Consumer Protection at 410-313-6420 or visit www.howardcountymd.gov/scamalert.htm.