JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tis the season for many people to open their hearts and wallets to those less fortunate, but when it comes to charitable giving in Florida, it's a case of giver beware.
Allied Veterans of the World masqueraded as a charity for years, all the while pocketing millions operating Internet cafes. They got away with what they were doing for so long because no one but prosecutors had the power to stop them.
"The single biggest flaw in Florida's charity regulation is that there is no regulation, it is a registration," said Adam Putnam, agricultural commissioner.
After Allied Veterans, the push is on to hold charities more accountable.
"If you've been in trouble in another state, you'd be prohibited from doing business in Florida raising money, soliciting money in Florida," said Putnam. "You wouldn't be allowed to have felons soliciting contributions."
For now, donators can check on favorite charities at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer services online Gift Givers Guide.
Type in the name and up comes an accounting of what percent went to program expenses, administration or fundraising.
"But they present themselves with a similar name," said Alyce Lee Stansbury,
Stansbury says most people get into trouble when the not so good charities imitate the strong ones.
"Then they may end up making a gift to an organization that isn't providing the same impact," Stansbury said. "But they present themselves with a similar name."
So those who are moved this holiday season to do something for someone less fortunate, the experts say paying attention to detail will make sure the cash donated ends up doing the good work that's intended.
Proposed legislation would also require increased reporting if charities spend too much on fundraising. The reporting could include whether members of the board receive compensation.
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