SANTA MONICA ( — The Christmas season is off to a shaky start on the Westside after three men were arrested for allegedly posing as charity workers and collecting donations at the Santa Monica Promenade.

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Police arrested 56-year-old Rodney Muhammad of Compton, 53-year-old Derek Haskins of Los Angeles, and 53-year-old Jerry White of Santa Monica on charges of theft by false pretenses, identity theft, false advertising, forgery of a government seal, and aggressive panhandling.

The trio were allegedly seen displaying false credentials and soliciting patrons for cash donations for organizations such as the AIDS Health Foundation and Another Chance Ministry.

In light of arrests both in Santa Monica and nationwide, high-profile charitable organizations like The Salvation Army are warning holiday donors to exercise caution before donating to any street solicitors.

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Major Ian Robinson with The Salvation Army in Southern California told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that it’s fairly simple to determine whether the charity’s familiar bell ringers collecting donations outside markets, malls and shops are legitimate.

“The kettles and the bell ringers are only in locations where we’ve received permission to be by the store or the mall,” said Robinson. “You can ask the store manager if he permitted them to be outside, or contact the local Salvation Army office if you’re not sure.”

There are also some telltale signs that a solicitor is merely a Salvation Army impostor: legitimate solicitors will have all-red kettles on a black stand with a small sign sporting the organization’s logo.

“The main thing to watch for is that the kettle itself is locked,” said Robinson. “There’s a padlock on it and it’s securely locked, it cannot be opened by the bell ringer or anyone else there.”

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Despite no annual shortages of copycats and scammers, The Salvation Army has collected an estimated $2.83 billion in 2012, according to Forbes.