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Charity or scam? Website helps you find out

Jamie Richardson, 42, is a Salvation Army bell-ringer who is helping raise money for the needy this holiday season. In front of the Wal-Mart in Biloxi on Sunday, he broke the world record of 150 hours of ringing a bell.
Jamie Richardson, 42, is a Salvation Army bell-ringer who is helping raise money for the needy this holiday season. In front of the Wal-Mart in Biloxi on Sunday, he broke the world record of 150 hours of ringing a bell. bmkaplan@sunherald.com File

Does the person asking you for a Christmas donation represent a valid charity? Is it the real deal? Or is it a group that doesn’t spend much of its donations on charitable cause it represents?

You can find out in seconds by searching for the name of the charity on the website of the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.

Delbert Hosemann has issued a warning to help residents avoid being scammed over the holidays. He also said he wants to encourage prospective donors to pick registered charitable organizations that spend the majority of donations on the purpose they represent.

The website also has a report on charitable groups’ financial information. It shows how much they reported receiving, administrative costs, and the amount and percentage of money that went to their cause.

“Mississippi is the most giving state in the nation,” Hosemann said, referring to nationwide reports that for years have listed Mississippi at or near the top of the list of charitable donors.

“Our goal is to help you make sure your donations reach those who need your generosity the most.”

Charities held accountable

Charities that solicit donations must be registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and report their financial information.

At least 65 percent of a charitable group’s total expenses should be spent on activities directly related to the group’s purpose, according to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Churches are not required to register. Neither are schools, law enforcement agencies and community-relations programs that solicit gifts or money for worthy causes.

Some reputable charitable groups are known for their high-profile campaigns to help the needy at Christmas.

The Salvation Army, for instance, is easily recognizable by its signs, red kettles and bell ringers outside store entrances.

The Salvation Army World Service Office and the Salvation Army National Corporation, both registered in Mississippi, give about 95 percent and 89 percent, respectively, to charitable work, the secretary of state’s financial report shows.

Many other legitimate efforts across the Mississippi Coast are working to provide toys for less-fortunate children and Christmas meals for shut-ins and needy people.

Beware of con artists

It’s a shame con artists scam goodhearted people, especially by using a religious ruse, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said.

Deputies arrested Tony Alexander Boulton on false pretense charges Nov. 29 for the second time in a month. He called himself a youth minister or a youth street pastor and was about to scam a Helena man a second time over a bogus church-related donation, Ezell said.

The man called the sheriff’s department and Boulton tried to escape, running through yards when investigators showed up, Ezell said.

In this case, the intended victim called the law, Ezell said.

Ezell said it doesn’t hurt to check out a charity before you give someone your hard-earned money.

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