Before donating, carefully check to make sure that charity isn’t a scam

I’ve recently received several emails from readers who are getting hit with requests for money from various nonprofits charities — and they are concerned whether they are scams or honest charities.

Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell

I checked with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which has some great information. Charities depend on the generosity of donors to support them for various causes and purposes but you must keep these tips in mind before making a donation:

Watch out for scams

Scammers take advantage of people by pretending to be a real charity in order to commit fraud. Frequently, bogus charities will exploit a recent natural disaster or tragedy, promising to use the donations to aid victims. It is important not to judge a charity solely on its name. Many organizations may use names similar to well-known charities and organizations.

Check out a charity before donating

Ask the charity or organization why it is asking for donations and what purpose will be served. Florida law gives the prospective donor the right to request and receive a copy of a charity’s financial report before donating. You can also use our Check-A-Charity tool at to view a charity’s financial information and current registration status, or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352). Be aware that many telephone appeals for funds are made by paid solicitors, not volunteers. Telemarketing is expensive and may entail substantial fundraising costs. Ask the solicitor what portion of your donation will be retained by the charity.

Avoid high pressure tactics

Some solicitors use high-pressure tactics and may even offer to send a “runner” to pick up your money immediately. Don’t feel forced to make a quick decision without getting all the information you need to make an informed decision. Reputable charities and organizations are just as happy to receive your donation tomorrow as today. If you decide to make a donation; never send cash. Typically, it is best to pay by check, made payable to the charity itself, not to the solicitor. If you decide to make a donation online, look for indicators that the site is secure, such as a URL that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).

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).

All charities soliciting within 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. If a professional solicitor is requesting a donation on behalf of a charity, the solicitor also must be registered with the department and should be able to provide you with their registration number. Visit Check-A-Charity online at to view a charity’s financial information and current registration status, or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.