Remember how I talked about charity scams in a link I posted in last Friday’s Weekend Docket? While I was working on the post, it brought up quite a bit for me in the process. I also talked about how this is one scam that hits close to home for me, so I felt like this could be its’ own post as a special report.
Anyway, as a refresher, the link was about how the attorney general offices from 38 states, including the District of Columbia, and the FTC teamed up to shut down a large charity scam operation. The link states that the people running this scam used harassing robocalls to reach unsuspecting victims. The complaint included in the link goes on to mention that there was a team of three people making these phone calls using soundboards to make more calls and suck in more money. They even called the same number multiple times in one hour, which is against the law.
According to the complaint, this charity scam operation did business under a generic sounding name that I won’t mention in here, but it’s a name that heavily conveys community service and local charity. They set the business up in 1999, so they’ve been doing this for many years.
This wasn’t their first rodeo in scamming people, according to this article from 2015, and confirmed in the recent complaint. The people operating the four charities described in this article ceased operations and were banned from engaging in similar doings for good. However, this stupid agency changed ownership, and continued by starting up other sham charities.
It’s like the Hydra from the movie Hercules, slice off one head, and a bunch of others grow back.
These dirty wookalars also learned from the last time they got busted, and they got sneakier, more predatory, and more aggressive.
The reason this hits so close to home for me is because these are the same ones my family and I dealt with years ago.
Years back, while they were operating the sham charities listed in the 2015 article, a family member of mine fell for it. They’d call out of nowhere, saying it’s ‘that’ time of year again, they were fundraising on behalf of ABC and XYZ charity, blah blah blah and whatever, and wheedle for money.
The mailings that came to the house were unreal, complete with nasty-sounding and guilt-inducing “friendly reminders,” and sometimes we’d get multiple envelopes from them. I didn’t think anything of it, and thought it was weird that they’d send all this like it was going out of style any second. I figured my family member knew what they were doing, and left what I thought was well enough alone.
They clearly gave out our information to others, because we were soon getting mountains of letters and pledge cards from a legitimate charity in the mail.
It wasn’t until they blitzed and bombed our phone with harassing phone calls demanding money, because after all, my family member pledged it, and made a promise to them. They got aggressive and abusive with my family member, and I’d heard enough.
That does it. There’s a bunch of other charities we can donate to instead if this is how they’re gonna be.
I decided to do a little digging on this company, and found out these charities were intertwined with the same overhead with the homey, community service-sounding name. The names of these charities were also very similar to well-established and highly reputable ones, and confusingly similar at that.
My family member begged for me to just forget about it, it’s not much, that it was a lesson learned and whatever.
Nope. I grabbed whatever mailings I could find from these scammers, along with money order receipts we still had. That included what my family member hadn’t sent money to, keeping it all in an extra folder I had from the previous school year, and put it in my gym bag for the next day.
I also wrote down everything that happened, what I saw of them, including what I was able to weasel out of my family member. This way, I didn’t forget anything.
I was doing some volunteer work at the time, and after I was done with my shift, I took the bus to the Attorney General’s office, and went to their Consumer Division office. I talked with one of the investigators, and told them what happened. I showed them everything I brought with me, and they confirmed that these were all from the same overhead company. The one exception turned out to be a legitimate charity they were familiar with, and knew the person running it (at the time).
The investigator told me that they’d gotten reports of this happening to a few others here in town. They even told me about how one family came forward with a story about how their loved one lost upwards of $80K to this same scam. I won’t reveal the specifics about their demographic, but I will say they were elderly.
That story stuck with me ever since. I’ve often wondered about that family, and how they’re holding up these days. I still think about them even now, even though I’ve never met them. My family member’s financial losses over these butt weasels was comparatively peanuts in the scheme of things.
It could’ve been a whole lot worse. I counted my blessings on the bus ride home, thankful that we weren’t out any more money than we already were.
As far as I’m concerned, whether it’s 80 cents, 80 bucks or 80K, what’s the difference?
My next course of action was to fire off cease and desist letters. I googled a template, changed the verbiage around to fit our specific circumstances, and put them in the envelopes they’d sent with their borderline-abusive “friendly reminders.”
Unfortunately that also extended to the one legitimate charity who sent stuff in the mail to us. My priority was to get these maniacs off our case, and the legitimate charity ended up being collateral damage. I’m sure it came as a huge shock for them to get a cease and desist letter instead of money in the envelope from the mailings they sent out in good faith.
On the other hand, how ethical could they really be if this was how they got our information in the first place? Either way, we were done with them.
One of the mailings I found from the scam charity operation was a brochure that bragged lyrical about the people they help and the ways they help. I found it shortly after the whole ordeal ended, and to see what would happen, I called the number on the back to ask about their services as someone in need of them.
Shock of shocks, the jackwagon who answered the phone was nasty as all get-out to me, defensive, accusatory, and straight-up creepy. If this was how they treated me, I’m betting money this was how they acted towards those who were in a season of need for real, even before the FTC caught them.
Looking back, this was probably around the time the FTC caught them, so it’s no surprise they acted like this on the phone. Either way, they knew they fucked up, they knew what they were doing, and they were caught.
To this day, it burns me up knowing my family member and that other family’s loved one helped pay for these roaches’ six-figure shopping sprees, new cars, private jets, and we can probably assume designer gear was in the mix.
Even worse, this money also funded private school tuition for their kids. It’s saddening on so many levels, since these kids didn’t ask to be put in this situation. We can consider them victims too, and my heart goes out to them.
All of their ill-gotten gains came from taking advantage of people with the best of intentions who trusted these people were for real, both from this time around and the last time they got caught.
It’s no wonder the article mentions their monetary judgments are suspended due to their inability to pay.
I’d love to know how tf they can live with themselves, sleep at night, and expose any kids they have to this illegal activity knowing what they’ve caused so many people.
All that to say, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to do your homework before you give to a charity. This article gives us a great way to start researching a charity beforehand. No legitimate charity will ever cold-call you out of nowhere, and imo, any charity that uses a fundraising agency to do its’ work should be treated with suspicion from the start.
Furthermore, no legitimate charity will resort to illegal robocalls with stupid soundboards, behave abusively on the phone when you ask questions, bully and guilt-trip you into a pledge, and bomb your mailbox with “friendly reminder” letters.
More importantly, always trust your instincts. Your instincts did the homework already, in a sense. If you get even the slightest weird or gross feeling after you get off the phone with them, whether or not you can put a name to why, then that’s enough of a reason to send any donations you originally had for them to a more reputable and well-established charity instead.
On the other hand, if the charity using the fundraising agency turns out to be legitimate, then cut out the middleman and either anonymously donate the money to them yourselves, or consider an in-kind donation instead.
If you’re among the ones who’ve sent money to this agency, I’m truly sorry this happened to you. Know that none of this was your fault. You weren’t the one making the claims of helping people and soliciting people’s money. They were. You trusted that they were in it to help people, and they ultimately weren’t. That’s their fuck-up, 100%. They betrayed your trust, and that’s on them. Report your story to your local Attorney General office, and to the FTC, if for no other reason than to say that this happened to you and to get it on record.
Over to you, readers. Have you ever fallen for a charity scam? Know someone who has? Share your stories below, and let’s talk.