How to avoid scams when donating to Bahamas relief efforts

Florida agriculture commissioner warns 'bad actors' will not be tolerated

The devastation in the Bahamas caused by Hurricane Dorian has spurred people into action leading efforts to bring supplies and help the people, but unfortunately the tragedy has also inspired scammers trying to take advantage of people's good will.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has a message for anyone thinking about cashing in on this tragedy: think again.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates charities to protect consumers.

Already the department's Division of Consumer Services has identified more than 140 new Hurricane Dorian-related charities using websites such as GoFundMe to solicit donations. Fried's department has been contacting those fundraisers to let them know they need to register.

In the meantime, department officials offered these tips to avoid sending money to false charities.

Verify the charity: Consumers can verify a charity using the Department's Check-A-Charity tool. This system will tell consumers if the organization is registered with Florida. Outside of the Sunshine State, there other verification tools available. The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance evaluates charities to help donors be more informed about the organization before making a donation.

Nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator already has a comprehensive list of highly-rated organizations helping Hurricane Dorian victims.

Ask where your money is going:
"Ask how exactly your donation will be used, what specific cause it will go towards, and how much of the contribution will be used for program services," according to the Department of Agriculture news release. "Consumers should not assume their donation will be spent a particular way. If you are solicited for a contribution, ask to see written information about the organization, and a breakdown of how the money is being utilized."

Is it tax deductible?

Consumers can verify an organizations nonprofit status by asking if their donation will be tax deductible. Not every organization that solicits contributions is tax-deductible but consumers can ask for the organization's tax-exempt number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or use the IRS Tax Exempt Organization search tool.

Give time, supplies instead of funds

There are ways to help Bahamians without giving money. You can volunteer or donate medical supplies, clothing, pet food or other essentials to help families and individuals get back on their feet.

Here is a list of organizations seeking donations for specific missions as well as donated items.