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updated: 11/26/2011 8:59 AM

Tips to make your holiday giving more scam free

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It happened again the other day.

The phone rang. I said, "Hello."

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After a pause, I said, "Hello, hello."

"Hi, Stephanie!" said an overly friendly caller whose voice I didn't recognize.

"This is (caller's name) and I'm hoping we can count on your support again this year."

"Again this year?" I thought.

I haven't responded to a telephone solicitation requesting financial support for a "worthwhile cause" for at least 17 years.

I began that personal policy after I'd purchased four game tickets for less fortunate youngsters, followed soon after by a man at my front door to pick up the cash.

Next thing I knew, news about a scam surfaced with the same modus operandi.

"Thanks for the call," I replied to the unknown caller the other day. "My charitable giving has been promised. Thanks."

Hearing voices in the background, I figured he was calling from a phone bank, so I said goodbye, before his last- ditch pitch. The week before, an unknown caller had tried to make the donation process easier for me by offering an installment plan.

I also experienced a creepy Facebook contact recently. I noticed two new "friend" requests, one right after the other. Both requests had the exact same "wallet-type" stock photo of an attractive woman, but the names were different and we had no friends in common.

Facebook will often remind users never to befriend unknown names and faces. Duly noted, I clicked delete, delete.

On Sunday, a good friend forwarded an email comparing the administrative costs of several big-name charities to the cost of veterans' groups run by volunteers.

He asked, "How do I check if this is true?"

My response was that a similar email seems to go around every holiday season. The "big" charities pay their administrators well, probably for some good reasons.

But my choice is that most charity begins at home in support of local causes for many even better reasons.

Our mail of late also has been swamped with requests from every charity to which we've ever made a donation -- and then some. It's always prudent to evaluate if your gift truly will fulfill unmet needs that make a difference.

Our local veterans groups, the Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 and the Naperville America Legion Post 43 are dedicated citizens who continually volunteer to serve. If you want to support their initiatives to assist disabled veterans, they're a good place to start.

Even so, some V.A. impostors have emerged promoting scam organizations with missions that mimic legitimate veterans groups.

Especially during challenging times, scams are targeted to pull at the heartstrings of all of us. Be advised not to be fooled.

Operation Support Our Troops America, the group that collects and sends personal care items and packaged food to soldiers serving in harm's way, also does great work. To keep tabs on their needs for the holidays, visit www.osotamerica.org.

It costs roughly $25 to send one care package. Simply mail tax-deductible donations to: OSOT America, 1807 S. Washington St., Suite 110, No. 359, Naperville, IL 60565.

If cash is in short supply, but you have loads of gently used clothing and seasonal outerwear, consider giving to Second Chance Resale Shop, 1512 N. Naper Blvd.

Proceeds from the sale of donated merchandise benefit Family Shelter Service. Hours to donate clothing and household items for resale are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information about Second Chance Resale Shop, call (630) 955-9599 or visit www.familyshelterservice.org.

As I've written other years, never reply to an email solicitation for funds or information. Don't be enticed by fraudsters with charitable offers who volunteer to come to pick up a check "to make it convenient for you." Learn from my experience.

Watch out for pickpockets, too. While you're dining or shopping during the holidays, remember never to hang belongings on the back of chairs.

Also, don't leave packages visible on car seats -- lock valuables in the trunk of your car.

Finally, from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots to the Rotary Sunrise Winter Coat Drive, plenty of opportunities welcome your gifts this season. And if you think locally, you'll likely know the people who are organizing the collections.

Nobody needs to be taken any time of year.

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