It never fails, happens like clockwork every December. We see our social media accounts and sometimes even email inboxes flooded with stories about some poor family who's hard on their luck "lost everything" and need help with utility bills, or thy're facing eviction, or (when they really want to tug on your heart strings) just want to provide for their kids for Christmas.
And heaven forbid if you question their story! Not only will you be attacked by the person who posted it for being "heartless", but others will also join in on telling you how terrible a person you are for wanting to make sure the circumstances are legitimate before helping.
However, despite the public lashing, people eventually poke enough holes in the story that it resembles a piece of Swiss cheese, and people finally realize it's a scam after they've already donated money or items. And before you ask, no, donating items is not any protection from being scammed, because the person will turn right around and list those donated items on the Facebook marketplace or craigslist, and turn your donations into cash. And of course, those who defended the scammer quietly sit back silent, refusing to acknowledge that they just enabled a scammer to turn a profit from gullible people with good intentions.
So the next time you have an urge to help one of these "people in need", instead make a donation to one of these organizations, and direct them there for further assistance. One of the tell tale signs of a scam is when you start hearing a sob story about how these organizations couldn't help them.
The below contact information is for the Hagerstown area, so if you're outside of Hagerstown you may need to do a little additional research.
The Salvation Army - According to their website, the Salvation Army will not only help with food, clothing, and utility bills, but also have the Angel Tree program, in which Christmas gifts are provided for children in need. Donation Link
The Salvation Army
541 George St.
Hagerstown, MD 21740-0747
Phone: (301) 733-2440
Horizon Goodwill - One of the common themes in many of the scams we see around the holidays is that someone lost their job. Fortunately, Horizon Goodwill has a Job Training Program which can help people get back on their feet quickly. Donation Link
14515 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Hagerstown, MD 21742
Phone: (301) 733-7330
Your Local Church(es) - Many local churches and church associations also have programs for helping people in need year-round, but especially during the holidays. The Hagerstown Area Religious Council is probably a good starting point to connect you (and the "person in need") with help. Donation Link
Hagerstown Area Religious Council
P.O. Box 1158
Hagerstown, MD 21741 USA
Now, if you'd like to help spread this message, here's a standard reply you can copy and paste to any post or email requesting help for the holidays. Don't worry about offending people - those who are truly in need will be grateful that you've connected them with the resources they need. Most people who have genuinely fell on hard times through no fault of their own are looking for a hand-up, not a hand-out.
Unfortunately the holiday season is filled with scammers preying upon those of us with good intentions who genuinely want to help others. Since it's impossible to truly tell if someone is scamming or not, the best thing to do is donate to a local organization that helps people in need, then direct those people in need to those local organizations. Here's a link with some great resources for people to donate, as well as contact information for those in need to obtain those resources. This is a much safer alternative for everyone in order to avoid scams. http://www.washcochronicle.com/2019/12/tis-season-of-scammers.html
That's it! Just copy and paste the above, and you're all set. Then go to one of the above donation links, and if you can afford to do so, spread some holiday cheer to one of those organizations. By connecting people with the resources they need and educating others, when can fight back against the holiday scammers and hopefully help prevent others from falling victim.
Ken is the editor of the WashCo Chronicle.