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Authorities concerned that con artists may try to capitalize on recent…

Authorities concerned that con artists may try to capitalize on recent
natural disasters ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson today issued a consumer advisory, warning consumers about the potential for fraudulent charities or individuals illegally soliciting charitable donations. Attorney General McCollum and Commissioner Bronson both expressed their concern that in light of the recent widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Dean, con artists and scammers may try to take advantage of people’s good intentions by creating illegitimate charities, including internet-based “organizations.” The advisory cautioned that emails and websites requesting donations may appear legitimate, but could be a ploy to gain personal information and consumers are encouraged to verify the validity of charitable organizations before making any donations.

“It is absolutely reprehensible for someone to try to capitalize on a natural disaster that had already caused widespread destruction and loss of life,” said Attorney General McCollum. “Floridians should know that while there are numerous reputable organizations fostering the true spirit of charity, there are those who are less than honorable and they should be avoided at all costs.”

Added Commissioner Bronson: “While natural disasters cry out for the need for charitable organizations, what’s critical is to make sure that your contribution is going to a legitimate charity – not in the pocket of a con artist. Consumers can – and should – check out whether a charity is registered in Florida by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352).”

Florida law requires charities to register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and provide financial information about income and expenditures, according to the Solicitations of Contributions Act under Chapter 496, Florida Statutes. Both the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have pursued litigation in the past against unregistered charities and individuals who were improperly soliciting donations in the name of philanthropy. These lawsuits were filed under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Penalties include fines of $10,000 per violation,or $15,000 if a senior citizen or disabled individual is the victim.

McCollum and Bronson also provided the following tips to consider when deciding whether to donate to an organization:

– Always make sure a charity is registered before donating and check on
how a charity spends its money. Consumers have the right to ask for an organization’s financial report and its federal tax identification number which is necessary to claim contributions as tax deductions.

– Don’t judge an organization based on an impressive sounding name.
Find out what it actually does. Additionally, be wary of emotional appeals and organizations that have only vague plans for spending the funds they collect.

– Never give cash. Write a check payable only to an organization-not an
individual.
Be wary of organizations that offer to send a ‘runner’ to pick up donations. Reputable charities are willing to wait for contributions.

Complaints about fraudulent charities can be directed to either agency’s consumer services division. The Attorney General’s Office receives consumer complaints through the agency’s fraud hotline is 1-866-9-NO-SCAM
(1-866-966-7226) or through the website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services can be reached at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or online at http:// www.800helpfla.com.
Consumers can also contact the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to determine whether or not a particular organization is registered.

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