Avoiding hurricane relief scams

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Hurricane Maria followed Irma in pummeling Puerto Rico and the island is in desperate need.

Tallahassee Attorney Gisela Rodriguez is originally from the U.S. territory. Her family still lives there. She’s still unable to contact her parents.

“The sound of their voices is what gives me strength and power to just keep going and keep doing what I'm doing. So missing that medicine daily... it's like you're slowly dying,” Rodriguez said.

Gisela isn’t letting the agony bring her down. After researching charities to find ways to help, Rodriguez found AirDrop, a group of volunteer pilots who fly donations she collects directly to Puerto Rico.

“[I'm] beyond thankful. I don't think there's a word... I don't think there's a word,” said Rodriguez.

Officials say it's important to do your homework before donating to a charity. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says there are a number of online tools to help check a charity’s credibility.

“You can find out whether they're registered, and how much of your money will actually go to the individuals they want to help versus administrative costs,” said Jennifer Meale with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office says there are also red flags that can give scammers away.

“Particularly in the wake of a disaster, a charity scam may pop up as a solicitation. Be weary of high pressure sales tactics or anyone who's hesitant to provide you more information about their charity,” said Whitney Ray with the Attorney General's Office.

Charities soliciting in Florida must register with state and file annual reports.