Florida, the U.S. State with the Most Charity Scams, Poised to Crack Down

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May 18, 2014; WTSP-TV

A charity reform bill awaits the signature of Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, the U.S. state with the highest number of charity scams in the country.

In January, Nonprofit Quarterly reported on a proposal by Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner to implement “a complete rewrite” of the state’s charity laws, aiming to increase oversight and transparency. Key legislators backing the bill tell WSTP-Channel 10 News in Sarasota that it will protect Floridians from non-profit charity scams. State Senator Jeff Brandes, who drafted the bill, told the station that “the most important thing is for people to understand the charities they are giving to.”

Last year, a $300 million gambling ring operation allegedly acting as a veteran’s charity was busted, forcing the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor and the arrest of dozens of people charged with crimes. Brandes told Channel 10 that this was a red flag for change:

“They are looking people in the eye, asking for money, then not spending the money on charitable activities. We need to separate the good charities from the bad and this bill will help us do that.”

The bill would prohibit felons from soliciting for charities and require background checks for fundraisers. If a charity is shut down elsewhere in the U.S., it would be closed down in Florida. The legislation also provides more resources for investigators to keep an eye on charitable activities and requires greater financial disclosure and transparency from nonprofits, especially larger ones. Another change will impact those ubiquitous drop-off clothing bins—charities will now be required to post more information on them.

If the bill is signed, it will go into effect in July. Brandes points out, however, that the best protection against charity scams is donor awareness and education. “If it is a local charity, go visit it and ask questions.”—Larry Kaplan