Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Charity Scams

Laws and Regulations

Florida Statutes
Chapter: 496

Charity scammers use deception to steal money from people who believe they are donating to legitimate causes. They siphon money away from those in need and use it to line their own pockets. Scam artists often exploit natural disasters and other emergencies to play on donors' sympathy and take advantage of their generosity. 

Protect Yourself from Charity Scams

If you are considering making a donation, take time to research the charity and make sure it is legitimate.

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).

Call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or use our online Check-A-Charity tool to find out if a charity is properly registered. You can also find out how much the charity is spending on administration and fundraising and how much money goes to actual programming. 

Here are a few more tips for choosing a worthy charity and giving wisely:

  • Don't judge a charity solely on an impressive-sounding name. Many organizations have names similar to well-known charities and organizations. Know who is asking you for money.
  • Be wary of emotional appeals, and be suspicious of organizations with only vague plans for dispensing the funds.
  • Ask the charity or organization why it is asking for donations. What purpose will be served? Ask questions and do not donate until you get satisfactory answers.
  • Some solicitors use pressure tactics and may even offer to send a "runner" to pick up your money. Reputable charities will not rush you to make a contribution.
  • Never give cash. Contribute by check and make it out to the organization.
  • If you decide to make a donation online, look for indicators that the website is secure, such as a web address that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for secure).
  • Thank-you gifts for donations add to fundraising costs. You can donate directly to a charity and forego the gifts. The charity will then have a larger percentage of your contribution to use for its programs.
  • Be conscious of groups or individuals who solicit by telephone, mail and door-to-door. Other groups to be wary of are those who solicit on street corners. While they ask for charitable contributions, little is known about their charity or charitable purpose.
  • Be aware that many telephone appeals for funds are made by paid solicitors, not volunteers. The solicitors often work for a for-profit firm hired by the charitable organization. Telemarketing is expensive and may entail substantial fundraising costs.
  • Some organizations have 900 phone numbers. When you call the number, the cost of the call is automatically billed to your phone. Before dialing, make sure you wish to donate the price of the call (it may be expensive) to that particular cause.
  • Oftentimes the elderly are taken advantage of because of their vulnerability. Elderly consumers are encouraged to discuss charitable giving with a trusted family member or friend.

Keep Good Records

Always obtain and save a printed copy of your donation or a receipt showing the amount of the contribution.

Not all organizations soliciting in the name of benevolence are true charities eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. If this is important to you, ask about the organization's federal and state eligibility for receiving tax-deductible donations. Typically, such donations fall under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).

File a Complaint

To file a complaint about a charity, use our online form or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).