Protecting yourself from post-storm charity scams

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Early damage estimates in the Bahamas range from three to ten billion dollars and many in Florida are looking for ways to help our neighbors to the east.

The Florida Division of Consumer Services is urging residents to vet charities through its Check-A-Charity Tool. (PIXABAY)

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture is warning residents to be wary of scam charities and is highlighting tools that can make sure your donations make the biggest impact.

A quick search for ‘Dorian’ on GoFundMe turns up nearly 6,000 results. Many of the drives have pulled in tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried says there’s a risk in donating to pop up charities.

“Since Dorian, we've seen about 140, give or take, charities that have popped up. Our staff has been working overtime to check those charities to make sure that they actually are valid,” said Fried. “We are starting to see some that aren't registering properly that unfortunately may be not legit.”

And when a scammer rakes in donations, reputable charities like the American Red Cross suffer.

“For us, personally, it takes money out of what could go to help the people,” said Sharon Tyler, Chief Executive Officer of the Tallahassee Red Cross.

To make sure you don’t fall victim to a bogus charity, the Florida Division of Consumer Services is urging residents to vet charities through its Check-A-Charity Tool.

“We are going to have zero tolerance,” said Fried. "So anybody who even thinks about defrauding our citizens or our people in general, know that we are going to come after them."

You can also call 1-800-HELP-FLA to check a charity. The Division’s call center fields about 700 to 1,000 calls a day. Charities are the number one inquiry.

Tyler called the tools offered by the state invaluable.

"I think it really behooves everybody to know who you are giving to,” said Tyler.

Those who violate Florida’s charity statutes can face a wide range of fines depending on the offense and could also be charged with a third-degree felony.

You can find the check-a-charity tool on the Department of Agriculture's website.