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'Tis the season to give - and be cautious about it

November 26, 1996

By FRANCA LEWIS

Staff Writer

It's the season for consumers to use caution when donating to charities, Maryland Secretary of State John Willis said Wednesday during a visit to Hagerstown.

"The next six weeks is the time when a greater percentage of donations are given to charities," Willis said. "We want to encourage people to be generous, but we also want to help them make informed choices."

To make it easy to get information, the state offers a toll-free telephone line, 1-800-825-4510, to the Charities Organizations Division.

In addition, the division provides literature and a speaker's bureau about charitable giving, Willis said.

His office has also gone high-tech to bring information to residents with a home page on the Internet. The address is:

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http://www.gov.state.md.us/sos.

The site offers a variety of information, including tips on how to be informed givers and a list of the charities collecting the most money in Maryland.

Those who prefer to use e-mail can send messages to Willis at mdsos@ari.net.

Charities must register with the state, which keeps track of how much the 3,500 registered charities spend to collect money, Willis said.

Maryland-based charities collected more than $1.3 billion in donations last year, Willis said. The state ranks third in the nation in generosity to charities, he said.

Willis suggested that people avoid making promises to unfamiliar charities soliciting by telephone. Instead, he said, it's better to deal with local charitable organizations that are familiar to the donor.

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