Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Charity Relief Scam Warning

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner
Charles H. Bronson is urging people to check out charities before donating
money to victims of Hurricane Katrina. There is a potential for scam
artists posing as relief agencies for the storm victims in Florida and

In Florida, most charities are required to register with the Florida
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and provide financial
information, such as how much is raised, and how much is spent on
administrative costs, fundraising and on the program services. Charities
that solicit in Florida are included in this requirement even if they are
located out of state.

The Department has received complaints in the past about organizations
seeking help for disaster victims and pocketing the money. It is difficult
to investigate these crimes because the scam artists often disappear from
an area by the time consumers realize they have been conned. Out of state
charities are especially difficult to follow up on so it's important that
people take the time to check the background of a charity prior to making a

Consumers can call the Division of Consumer Services hotline at
1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352) to verify that a charity is properly
registered or exempt from registration, find out how an organization spends
its donations, and check on the complaint history of a charity.

Charities that are located out of state and do not solicit in Florida do
not have to be registered. Bronson says people who get a phone number of
an out-of-state charity from a satellite news broadcast or the Internet may
not be able to do a background check on the organization. He encourages
consumers who want to help storm victims outside of Florida to donate to
charities that are well known and have established reputations.