June 26, 2019

Scam the Halls

Christmas stress - busy santa womanSince the week before Thanksgiving, I have been the recipient of over 100 requests for money, mostly by mail but more frequently by telephone. This, apparently, must be a seasonal thing as charities, legitimate and illegitimate, work the flocks in an effort to raise funds and stock their “barren” treasuries.  Why is it that I never hear from most of these “great causes” during the rest of the year?  I suspect that many charities “piggyback” on the goodwill present during the holiday season.

Over the years, I have counseled many people, mostly older adults or senior citizens, to show restraint during this season. While giving to charities is important, it is equally prudent that one is not donating money that is needed to pay utilities, food and other essentials.

It is estimated that U.S. giving during the 2010 holiday season to non-profit organizations will be more than $48 billion dollars across all giving channels – including online and direct mail. The average total amount that holiday givers plan to donate is $281.00.  Holiday giving is emotional and appeals that remind donors to help those who are less fortunate are the most persuasive.  However, as with all good causes, there are many shady areas and pitfalls.

Many charities spend more than 25% and as high as 90% on fundraising and administrative costs.  This means your donation will be reduced substantially before it ever gets to the charity that you intended.

Scammers often use sound-alike names of well known and respected charities.  Many purport to help police and firefighters, sick and needy children, victims of recent natural disasters, and veterans.  Before donating, take time to authenticate charities by checking names and reputations with the Better Business Bureau.

If you get a phone solicitation and are interested in donating, request that brochures and other paperwork be mailed to you.  It may also be helpful to obtain the organization’s phone number yourself, then call and ask if a phone campaign is under way.  Printed material is no guarantee of legitimacy, but organizations that won’t provide it are typically bogus.

Be wary of phone calls that are “taking a survey.”  With identity theft as prevalent as it is today especially during the holiday season, it is always better to avoid these calls.  Once they get you talking, it is easy to work in personal information.  Keep in mind that even with caller ID, there is no guarantee that you are really speaking with a representative of the North American Research Association.

It is truly sad today that we have to protect ourselves during a season that should be filled with joy and love for all.  But, for many, Christmas is no longer the celebration of the Birth of Christ; but rather, a gigantic economic retail and business bonanza that generates billions of dollars having absolutely nothing to do with religion.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer