Crime Watch

Crime Watch: Don’t get taken during the season of giving


Special to The Miami Herald

The holidays are just around the corner and we need to start preparing ourselves for the crooks that are out there. As we all know, this time of the year different organizations start to knock on our doors and mail boxes. Many of these groups are truly fantastic, but we all need to be careful to make sure we are dealing with real charitable organizations and not phony solicitations, which is why once again I am going to give you some tips to follow.

Let’s look at some of the techniques once again that are questionable — and in some cases, illegal.

• Prize offers: Potential donors are told that they have won a contest and are eligible for a prize —usually worthless — if they make a donation to a charity.

• Chain letters: Unsolicited appeals, usually in the form of emails, ask potential donors not only to contribute to an organization but also to forward the email to friends and family members.

• Like- sounding names: Fraudulent charities take names that are very similar to those of high-profile charities that are known and trusted by the public.

Another scam that is very prevalent in our community during this time is that they will come to your door selling magazine or gift items in the name of a school or charity for the holidays. First of all, don’t let anyone in your house who is selling anything. Sometimes these people will come with small children, so that you assume its safe to let them in. Well unfortunately, some of these little kids cute as a button, will ask to use the restroom while they are in your home, they then go into the bedroom to take whatever they can put in their pockets. You don’t even notice it until they have left your home. So please again don’t let anyone into your home. If they refuse to leave, call the police and give the best description you can.

Here are ways you can prevent being a victim of charity fraud:

• Ask how your money will be used, such as what percentage will go to the actual programs versus the administrative and fund-raising cost.

• Request written information that gives the full name, address and phone numbers of the organization, as well as a description of the programs it supports.

• Check out any charity you don’t know with the local charity registration office, Better Business Bureau or a charity watchdog group such as, or

Don’t be fooled by a name that closely resembles the name of a respected and well-known charity.

Ask for the charity’s tax-exempt letter indicating its IRS status. You can’t claim a tax-deductible donation if the charity does not have one.

Never give cash. Make your contribution by check payable to the full name of the charity once you are certain it’s a charitable organization.

Don’t give out your Social Security number. A charity does not need it in order for you to claim a tax deduction.

Charity-related fraud should be reported to local law enforcement or the local postmaster. Complaints can also be filed online with the Better Business Bureau at

We all want to be helpful, but we need to make sure that we are helping those that truly are helping.

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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