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It is getting to be that time of year whether because of the Holidays’ sentiment of giving or for end of the year tax deductible donations, but you need to be careful about your donations. Charity scammers use deception to steal money from unwary people who think they are donating to a real cause or charity. If you are consid­ering making a chari­table donation, take the time to verify the legit­imacy of the supposed charity. All charities solic­iting within the state of Florida (excluding religious, educa­tional, political and govern­mental agencies) are required to register and file financial infor­mation with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (“FDACS”). You can visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com and use the Check-A-Charity tool or call the FDACS toll-free hotline at 1–800-HELP-FLA (435‑7352) to verify a status.  It is up to you, the donor, to determine if your contri­bution will be spent the way you intend it should be.

Some chari­table organi­za­tions may spend the majority of the money it raises on its purpose or cause, while others spend high amounts on admin­is­trative costs. You can ask for the chari­table organization’s financial infor­mation, such as a copy of its IRS 990 income tax return, annual report, or a breakdown of how the money is spent. Check what percentage of donations received is actually used to further the cause the charity claims is its purpose, not just perpet­u­ating the organi­zation itself.

Some charities use telephone solic­itors, not volun­teers, who work for a for-profit firm. Telemar­keting is expensive and cuts into the net donations actually received by the chari­table organi­zation. It will likely be better for the charity if you donate to it directly.

What You Can Do

Here are a few suggested tips to make sure you are choosing a real and worthy charity and the monies you’re giving are used as how you intend:

  • Check if the chari­table organi­zation is regis­tered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by visiting FloridaConsumerHelp.com.
  • Never give cash. Contribute by check and make it out to the chari­table organi­zation. If you decide to donate online after checking the available infor­mation about the chari­table organi­zation, look for indicators that the website is secure, such as a web address that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for secure), in order to protect your financial infor­mation.
  • Ask questions:

What is the fundraiser?

Who will benefit from my donation?

How much of my contri­bution goes to the chari­table organi­zation mentioned in the request?

How much of the donation goes toward admin­is­trative and fundraising expenses?

Are you a paid solicitor or a volunteer?

What is your (the telephone solicitor’s) license number?

Is this organi­zation eligible to receive tax-deductible contri­bu­tions?

  • Not all organi­za­tions solic­iting are charities eligible to receive tax-deductible contri­bu­tions. Ask about the organization’s federal and state eligi­bility for receiving tax-deductible donations, which fall under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3).
  • Some organi­za­tions have 900 phone numbers. Be aware of the fact that if you call the 900 number, the cost of the call is automat­i­cally billed to your phone. Before dialing, make sure you wish to also donate the price of the call to that cause.
  • Always obtain and save a printed copy of your donation or a receipt showing the amount of your contri­bution.

If you feel you have been cheated or treated wrongly, you can file a complaint about a charity or organi­zation with the FDACS by using the FDACS on-line form or by calling the FDACS hotline at 1–800-HELP-FLA (435‑7352).