WASHINGTON – Of the $8 billion a year that Marylanders donate to charity, they lose at least $100 million to telemarketing fraud, state officials estimate.
And as the holidays approach, appeals for charitable giving will rise — along with the number of fraudulent solicitations.
To make sure people do not stung during this time of year, the Maryland Secretary of State’s Office is teaming up with the Federal Trade Commission and the American Association of Retired Persons in a public-awareness campaign, “Operation Missed Giving.”
The national campaign, which began Thursday, is aimed at fraudulent telemarketers who pose as representatives of charitable organizations.
A previous report by the AARP showed that 56 percent of the victims of such scam artists were 50 years of age or older.
The campaign will target previous victims of telephone fraud, telling them what they can do to avoid falling prey to scam operators again. Once they have been scammed a first time, many victims become a prime target for phone scam artists.
“People who give will be on top of the scammers’ list forever,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis said phone frauds may pose as a well-known legitimate organization by using “sound- alike names.”
For example, he said, the American Cancer Society is a legitimate organization, but a caller may pose as the American Cancer Organization to swindle donations from unsuspecting people.
Besides information that is being made available through Operation Missed Giving in 43 states, Maryland has its own anti- fraud efforts.
“We have a notepad that we give out to senior citizens to keep by their phone to ask questions about the caller,” said Willis.
The questions include, “What is the charitable purpose of your organization?” and, “What is the full name, address and phone number of the charity?”
Simply asking these questions can discourage potential scam artists, said Willis.
Even if you pledge to give money to a charity, you are under no legal obligation to follow through if you have doubts, said Willis.
“A charitable gift is not an enforceable contract,” he said.
Maryland’s Attorney General’s Office advises people to be wary of all callers soliciting funds.
“Never give out personal information over the phone when someone calls you,” said Frank Mann, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.
Willis’ office has set up toll-free number for people to check whether a charity is legally registered in Maryland to solicit the public. The number is 1-800-825-4510.
A report issued in conjunction with the start of Operation Missed Giving said callers seeking donations for local groups, such as fire and police departments, are more likely to receive funds than those asking for national charities.
The report said that Americans in the 25-49 age group get an average of 1.42 phone solicitations a week. Those aged 50-64 get 1.94 such calls a week, while those age 65 and over get an average of 1.88.