PINELLAS COUNTY – The recent tsunami in Southeast Asia has prompted kindhearted individuals to donate to relief efforts worldwide. Unfortunately, con artists also may be soliciting donations for nonexistent groups as a way to benefit themselves. To make sure donations go to organizations that will truly help the victims of natural disasters, keep these consumer tips in mind:
• Beware of anyone soliciting donations after a natural disaster. Always ask for the name of the organization the solicitor represents.
• Request and review the organization’s financial information.
• Contact the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services, Office of Consumer Protection (Regulatory Section) at 464-7988 to determine if the organization is registered or for information on any charitable organization. To solicit in Pinellas County, charities must be licensed with the county’s Office of Consumer Protection, as well as with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. To see if the organization is registered in Florida, call (800) 435-7352.
• Don’t judge an organization solely by its name. Many organizations use names similar to those of well-known charities.
• Never give cash. Contribute by check payable to the organization – never to an individual.
It’s also important to note that even though there is an immediate financial need, charitable organizations must still comply with all applicable laws, such as registering fictitious names and filing for tax-exempt status.
For information on consumer issues, call the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services at 464-6200. Visit www.pinellascounty.org for easy-to-download complaint forms or for more information about consumer rights. Watch “Your Consumer Protection,” which airs on Pinellas 18. For show times, call 464-4809.