Tis' the season to be jolly. But tis' also the season to keep your eyes open for scammers posing as legitimate charities.

“The holidays are a ripe time for fraudsters and scammers to come out of the woodwork,” said Steve Lee, the director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

“Anytime people want to do good, anytime people want to give money, there are other people that want to take advantage of that.”

He said before you decide to make a contribution to a charity you should be aware that every charity that operates in New Jersey needs to be registered with the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

A directory of registered charities is at the Consumer Affairs website.

Lee says it’s often very difficult “to determine sometimes on the spot whether a charity is legitimate or fake, so most of the time what we tell people is give to the charities you already know or trust.”

Signs of a scam

Lee said one big red flag “is when someone calls you to solicit you, without any previous contact that you yourself have made.”

He pointed out most legitimate charities do not reach out and solicit people on the phone.

“Most legitimate charities, especially the larger ones, will wait for you to come to them, to come to their website or to contact them. So, if it’s the other way around you should be suspicious,” he said.

He also stressed you should really pay attention to the conduct of the solicitor on the phone.

“Another major red flag is if someone is putting undue pressure on you to give, especially if you say no or express hesitation. If their conduct becomes unprofessional that’s a major red flag and you should hang up the phone,” he said.

Get really suspicious if they ask for cash.

“One of the reasons why fraudsters ask for cash or ask for things like pre-paid debit cards is that it’s very difficult to get back your money. Legitimate charities will accept credit cards, they will accept checks,” he said.

He noted the Division of Consumer Affairs website also provides information about how charities spend the money they raise, which consumers may want to check.

He also stressed if you do make a contribution by check, make checks payable only to the organization that is listed as active in the Consumer Affairs database.

Lee added New Jersey residents should also delete unsolicited emails and never open attachments, even if they claim to contain videos or photos, because the attachments may contain viruses designed to steal personal information from your computer.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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