How to Protect Yourself: Charitable SolicitationsSource: The Florida Attorney General's Office
Everyone receives countless solicitations by mail and telephone asking for donations to what may seem like worthy causes. The problem is how to distinguish between the legitimate charitable causes and the scams. If a solicitor asks you for a donation, consider the following:
Be sure you know that the charity soliciting funds is legitimate.
In Florida, charities must register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and you are entitled to obtain a copy of registration documents and a financial statement. To obtain this information, you may call the Department at 1-800-HELP-FLA or visit their website at www.800helpfla.com. Additionally available from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the Gift Givers’ Guide. The Guide offers information on a charity’s spending, including how much the charity spends on administrative and fundraising expenses as opposed to the actual work of the charity. Access the Gift Givers’ Guide at www.800helpfla.com and click on the Gift Givers’ Guide.
In addition to being registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, most tax-exempt organizations are also required to file an annual return or notice with the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS requires automatic revocation of a charity’s tax-exempt status if it fails to file a return for three consecutive years. Publication of an organization’s name on the Auto-Revocation list on the IRS website helps potential donors determine the status of a charity. To learn more about the tax-exempt status of a charity, go to www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits.
You may also want to contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org or (703)-276-0100, as well as the Attorney General’s Office in the state in which the charity is based, to determine if the charity you are donating to has any outstanding complaints.
Know what paid solicitors can and cannot do.
Solicitors requesting donations for a law enforcement or emergency services group cannot claim to be a member of such a group if they are not. Solicitors are frequently paid hourly or receive a percentage of the amount of donations they collect and may not be affiliated or associated with the group on whose behalf they are collecting. Solicitors are prohibited from stating that if you fail to donate to a law enforcement group you may receive reduced services.
Know that scam artists will seek to profit from your goodwill.
While the law does not require that charities expend a certain amount or percentage of donations on the charitable purpose, you are always entitled to request information on the amount of money spent on the purpose, as well as how much is spent on salaries and other expenses. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response, it may be wise to donate to a different organization.
Copycat organizations may use names similar to a well-known charity in order to confuse you. Before you donate, make sure the charity to which you are giving is the charity you think it is.
After a natural disaster, such as a devastating earthquake or hurricane, numerous disaster-specific charities crop up. While many of these charities are legitimate, some may not be. In these instances, it may be wise to donate to a well-known disaster relief organization and specify the disaster relief efforts you would like your donation to fund.
Don’t feel pressured into sending money right away. Ask for information about the charity in writing before donating. Many scam organizations will offer to send a courier to your house or office for immediate pick-up of the donation. Tell them you would like to think about it or that you will mail a check to them yourself. Additionally, never give your credit card number or bank account information to a caller on the phone or someone who sent you an unsolicited email. If you are interested in donating to a charity that has initiated contact with you, ask them to send you a pledge form and information about the charity in the mail. Legitimate charities should have no problem with this request.
File a complaint.
If you feel that you have been a victim of a charity scam, file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online at www.800helpfla.com or by phone at 1-800-HELP-FLA. Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online using their complaint assistant portal at www.ftc.gov/complaint.