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Bronson urges citizens to avoid Haiti relief scams

By Staff | Jan 14, 2010

On Thursday, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson warned Floridians to be on the lookout for scams involving relief aid in the aftermath of this week’s massive earthquake in Haiti.

“The people in Haiti need massive amounts of aid, and we encourage our citizens to be as generous as possible in helping,” Bronson said. “But you need to make sure that the donations you are planning to make go to legitimate organizations that will benefit Haiti, and not to con artists who undoubtedly will try to exploit the tragedy by lining their own pockets with your donations.”

While no known scams have yet to be uncovered in Florida, con artists typically come out of the woodwork when tragedies occur and approach citizens with impressive-sounding organizations that seek money over the internet, by phone and sometimes even in person.

“Don’t be tricked into giving money to a person or organization with which you are not familiar,” Bronson said.

Among approaches that the Commissioner recommends is giving to well-known organizations, including the American Red Cross, United Way and the Salvation Army among many others. If citizens are contemplating making a contribution to an organization with which they are unfamiliar, Bronson encourages that they contact his Consumer Services Division at 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352) to make sure that the organization is registered with the state as a charity and to check its complaint history.

Consumers can also go to the division’s Web site at www.800helpfla.com and determine an organization’s registration status by looking at the “Gift Givers Guide” and can file an online complaint on the same site.

“The most important thing is to make sure that your contribution is going to the people you want to help,” Bronson added.