Beware Obscene Charity Scams

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When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, you want to do something right away. You visit doctors, advisors, anyone who might help. The next step for me was to find an organization whose mission was the same as mine—to fight our common enemy: lung cancer.

My son and I corralled a posse of friends and family to join us in a Lung Force Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We raised more than $3,300 for the American Lung Association. We were on a roll and it felt good.

What didn’t feel good were the stories that hit major news outlets soon after.  It seems not all organizations are as reputable as the American Lung Association. Charges were recently filed against four cancer charities who allegedly scammed donors out of $187 million dollars over several years. Instead of helping cancer patients, the money was spent on lavish vacations, gym memberships, jet ski excursions and dating website subscriptions.  About 3% was directed toward the cause they espoused.

Complaints against the Cancer Fund of America, the Children’s Cancer Fund, the Breast Cancer Society and Cancer Support Services included charges that “they operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest and excessive insider compensation.”  As I understand it, the government’s objective is to shut down these charities. A rather tepid goal in my view. Instead, I’d like to see the clowns who run these phony charities thrown in jail.

My takeaway is this: Don’t stop giving to worthy charities. Just first make sure your charity IS worthy. A good place to start is by going to Charity Navigator.  You’ll find vital info here including board member compensation, income stats, transparency and performance metrics, and lots more.  Give wisely: but before you open your checkbook, check out your charity first.

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