Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Watch Out For Aid Scams

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner
Charles H. Bronson is warning the public to beware of potential scam
artists posing as relief agencies for the victims of the tsunami in Asia.

"It's clear that there will be a great need for assistance for the tens of
thousands of victims of this terrible disaster," Bronson said. "But people
who want to help need to ensure their donations are going to actual victims
and not to con artists."

In Florida, most charitable organizations are required by state law to be
registered with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and
provide financial information. That information is compiled on the
Department's web site and in the annual "Gift Givers'
Guide," a popular consumer publication which shows how much money an
organization has raised the previous year, how much was spent on program
services, administrative costs and fund-raising activities. Consumers can
also contact the Department's consumer hotline at 1-800-HELPFLA
(1-800-435-7352) to determine whether a charity is properly registered and
find out the complaint history of a charity.

The Department has received reports in past disasters -- such as wildfires
and following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 -- of
organizations seeking help for victims and pocketing the money. It is
difficult to investigate these cases because scam artists have usually left
an area before anyone realizes they have been conned. Bronson says it is
incumbent on consumers to take precautions to avoid being victimized.
Consumers may be approached over the phone, on the Internet, or through
direct mail.

Consumers who have additional questions or want to report a potential scam
should call the Department's hotline at 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352).

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