With lots of gift buying and pleas from charities this holiday season, it’s wise to keep in mind some basic safe practices to avoid being ripped off.
This time of year people should be aware of three top problem areas, said Beth Glover, Community Interaction Officer for the Lee’s Summit Police Department.
• Charitable contributions
• Thefts from vehicles
• Home burglaries
Glover said that with the increase of shopping activity criminals are looking for opportunities to steal from you. She said nationally there will be a jump in thefts and fraud.
“They know people are out shopping for presents, they know people will have presents under trees,” Glover said.
Thieves will cruise parking lots in shopping centers, looking for packages piled in backseats. Or roam neighborhoods looking for Christmas trees in the front window. If presents are stacked underneath, they’ll try to find an unlocked door or break in to take the holiday gifts.
Glover said the best strategy is to make it more difficult for crooks to steal. Put packages in the car trunk. Always check that car doors or home doors are locked.
Most home burglaries happen during the day while residents are away. So don’t leave clues that indicate new purchases.
Don’t put gifts under the tree ahead of Christmas day where someone can look in the window and see them.
Don’t put cardboard boxes that contained electronics or expensive toys on the street to be picked up with the trash. A better idea is to break them down and take them to a recycling center, or at very least conceal them in a trash bag, Glover said.
Mark new gifts with identification number and record serial numbers.
If you take a trip away from home, put interior and exterior lights on timers; change alarm settings to immediately notify police. Have a neighbor or family member keep an eye on your residence, shoveling new snow and picking up mail or newspapers. They could also sometimes park their car in your driveway.
With one Lee’s Summit charity being criticized for its lack of financial oversight, including the Missouri Attorney General’s Office asking questions, Glover suggests going to the attorney general’s website https://www.ago.mo.gov/ and click on the Consumer Protection tab.
There you’ll find the Check a Charity service where groups voluntarily submit information about what percentage of gifts go to the charitable purpose, or for administrative costs or fund-raising.
The attorney general’s website also has tips for avoiding buying counterfeit goods or identity theft as you shop online.
Susan Coffman, chairman of the Lee’s Summit Human Services Advisory Board, suggests getting to know the charity you want to support. Learn how it spends your money to see how it makes an impact.
One of the best ways to choose a charity is to get involved as a volunteer, you’ll see the work it does and how well it is administered.
There are also a number of online resources that can be used to get some idea if a charity is legitimate.
The IRS has a website where you can verify if the group actually has not-for-profit status and so can take donations which are eligible to give you a tax deduction.
To check on the tax-exempt standing of an organization, go to the IRS website:
The Better Business Bureau also has a website for investigating a charity: http://www.bbb.org/us/chari-
If you get a telephone solicitation here are a few tips:
• Don’t give out credit card numbers over the phone
• Don’t be pressured into giving an immediate donation, ask the organization to mail you information so you can investigate the charity
• Don’t make cash contributions, write checks in the charity’s name
If strangers solicit donations, ask for identification and what charity they represent and how the funds will be used. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t give.