EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Wess Winn, community services officer and crime prevention coordinator with the Waxahachie Police Department to write a weekly column in an effort to answer many of the law enforcement-related questions posed by our readers. Here’s this week’s column:

With the Christmas season upon us I think it is time to talk a little bit about giving money to charities. Neal White forwarded me an e-mail last year about charitable giving tips and needs to be brought to our attention again. These tips are ones many of us have heard before but they were put together in this article by Lawrence Loeschs (from New York) and just about sums up everything we need to know about charitable giving. There is so much information I am going to split this into two different weeks, so look for the second half in next Sunday's issue.

Look-alike charities

Watch out for charities with similar names to well-known organizations. Some scam artists try to trick people by using names that make them appear to be the same as or comparable to valid charities. Always investigate the organization prior to making a donation. Look at their websites. Many non-profit web addresses end in “.org” instead of “.com.”

Phone scams

Be cautious of charities that contact you over the phone. In New York City, for example, there’s a popular scam from solicitors who claim to represent the NYPD and related police fundraising organizations. Only the New York Police Foundation can accept such donations and they do not solicit via the telephone. Ask the solicitor for the charity’s mailing address so that you can send them a check directly. When in doubt, call the charity yourself and ask them if they're aware of the solicitations being done in their name. We have our own Waxahachie Police Association, and we never solicit funds over the phone.

Know your charity

Many more organizations push for donations during the holidays. Research your charity before making the decision to donate. If they offer you very little information, they may not be legitimate. A legitimate charity will give you information describing its mission, how donations are distributed and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.

How is your donation used?

One of the most important things to consider when making a charitable contribution is how much of your money actually goes to the charitable cause. Most charities are required to register and file annual reports showing how donations are used. You can ask how to find this information at your state or local consumer protection agency.

Contribution collectors

Individuals who go door-to-door or position themselves in high traffic areas should be carrying proper credentials and identification. These individuals should be knowledgeable about the organization and be able to provide you with informative materials about the charity. Ask for written information and the solicitor’s identification to validate the organization. For security and tax record purposes, it’s important to pay by check when giving a contribution and write the charity’s official name on the check.

The Waxahachie Police Association is accepting new, un-open toys and gifts for their Christmas tree here at 216 N. College St. These toys will be given to a local charity to be distributed to families before Christmas. You can drop of your items off anytime here at the police department. Thank You.