Secretary warns residents about charitable giving

December 02, 1999


Web Sites List Maryland Charities

You can find out if a charity is registered in Maryland or report problems with charities or their solicitors operating in the state by calling the Office of the Secretary of State at 1-800-825-4510.

You can request a free pad of questionnaires that Secretary of State John T. Willis suggests you use to evaluate telephone solicitations. Just call Willis' office.

Information about all registered charities is available at the office's Charitable Organizations Division Web site.

The Web site features a database that allows you to search by the charity's name, city, state, county or a keyword.

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Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis is no Scrooge. He doesn't want to put a damper on anyone's holiday spirit.

He just wants Maryland residents to be careful about those to whom they donate money and know how easy it is to make an informed decision, Willis said during a stop in Hagerstown Thursday.

Willis said he chooses the holiday season for his annual statewide media tour because that's when roughly 60 percent of charitable giving takes place.

Maryland law requires all charities that receive more than $25,000 in public support except public safety organizations to register with Willis' office and submit financial information in order to solicit contributions in Maryland.

You can call the office toll-free to find out if a charity is registered.

Being registered doesn't mean that a charity is worthy of support, Willis said.

He urges people to review the information available from his office, including the charity's address, purpose, how much money the charity has raised, how much of that goes toward charitable programs and if a paid fund-raiser is used.

"We can't tell people not to give, but we can encourage them to give wisely," Willis said.

People need to be wary of deceptive practices by solicitors, he said.

It might be someone trying to sell you holiday candy by saying your purchase will benefit some needy group when there's no real charity, Willis said.

A common ploy is to give a charity a name similar to that of another, well-respected charity, and exploit the confusion, he said.

A recent example is the American Breast Cancer Association, which was registered with Willis' office. The office recovered some contributions from people who were misled by solicitors into thinking the charity was affiliated with the American Cancer Society, he said.

Willis said he sees the most abuse with health care and public safety charities.

Public safety charities are a problem because they're excluded from the registration requirement imposed on other charities, Willis said.

While the problem is sometimes with the groups themselves, more often it results from the less-than-reputable solicitors hired to try to raise money, he said.

"It's clearly a loophole in the law," said Willis, who wants to see the law changed so that the solicitors that public service charities used aren't granted the same exemption.

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