October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, time for that annual flood of pink-colored reminders to support a cure for the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
I's also time for a tsunami of “pinkwashing”—bogus charities and fraudulent fundraising through the sale of ribbons and other hued merchandise that promise to benefit breast cancer research.
"It's unfortunate that there are bad guys out there who prey on our goodwill," said Victor Searcy, director of fraud operations at IDentity Theft 911. "It's important for consumers to be vigilant so that their donations get to the right source and make a difference."
Along with many legitimate efforts are scammers who simply choose an authenticate sounding name or misrepresent themselves as being part of recognized groups to collect funds online, by telephone, or in person.
There are “legitimate” organizations calling themselves charities but actually “for-profit” and passing on precious few funds to the actual cause. Five breast cancer-related groups are among America’s Worst Charities, named following a year-long investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and Center for Investigative Reporting.
And since that familiar pink ribbon is not regulated by an agency, notes the Better Business Bureau, its use doesn’t necessarily mean it promotes breast cancer or other charities.
Some tips to donate—to any cause—with less risk of deception:
• Don’t give cash. Unless fundraising efforts are part of organized activities – think a booth at a “Run for the Cure” race – your safest bet is to write a check directly to a group participating in NBCAM.
• Assume unsolicited email charity requests are scams, unless you previously donated to that organization and already provided your email address. (And don’t click on attached links; they might be bait to unleash a computer virus.)
• Never provide a credit card or bank account number unless you initiate the phone call – not if they call you. Although legitimate charities solicit by phone, scammers can “spoof” your Caller ID to falsely display names and numbers from recognized organizations. Beware of callers who refuse to mail you material – instead pressuring for an over-the-phone donation.
• Door-to-door solicitors should have “leave behind” materials that can you authenticate – including self-addressed envelopes for mailing checks. Overall, solicitations you received through the mail are least likely to be scams. Fraudsters don’t like to pay for postage.
• When doing online searches, type website addresses yourself; don’t rely on links that may appear on search engine results. Learn who owns that domain name at www.WhoIs.net.
• Read “pink” product labels or related material, which should disclose a charity name and the amount of sale benefiting the charity.
• Vet charities—and where donations really should be sent—before donating. Check names and reputations at the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or GuideStar. Many experts encourage giving to groups that spend 25 percent or less of all donations on fundraising and administrative costs.
Sid Kirchheimer is a nationally recognized expert on scams and author of "Scam-Proof Your Life."