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cancer-charities-fraudPhoto Credit: The AP

The Federal Trade Commission has accused four different cancer charities of being complete shams. The Cancer Fund of America, Breast Cancer Society, Children's Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services, which are all run by members of the same extended family, have been accused of conning their donors out of $187 million dollars between the years of 2008 and 2012. 

The charities all claimed that they spent the majority of donations to aid cancer patients with things like hospice care, transportation to chemotherapy and pain medication.  According to the official complaint lodged by the FTC, only three percent of the donated money actually went to help those with cancer. Even then, cancer patients typically didn't receive more than a care package from the charities which contained items like Little Debbie snacks, plastic cutlery and iPod cases, regardless of the patient's age or diagnosis.   

The other 97 percent of the donated money went to two main things- hiring telemarketer companies and solicitors to earn more donations, with the rest being spent on CEO's personal expenses, which included jet skis, dating website subscriptions and lingerie shopping sprees at Victoria's Secret. 

“Some charities use donations to send children with cancer to Disney World,” Mark Hammond, secretary of state for South Carolina, told The New York Times. “In this case, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America used donations to send themselves to Disney World.”

The Children's Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society both agreed to settle charges before any litigation was filed and will be dissolved, while the civil suit will continue against the Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services .The FTC's Jessica Rich told CNN that the remaining charities have few assets left and  government regulators will be lucky to recover $1 million from them. 

For many, the fraud conducted  by these charities exemplifies the need of greater resources for regulators, as well as reminds people to be vigilant about the charities they donate to. 

"If you get a phone call, your response is ‘I know someone who had cancer, or I had cancer,’ ” H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, told The New York Times.  “Your instinct is to open your wallet.”

But instead of immediately acting on those instincts to give back, use a site like Great Non-Profits or Charity Navigator to research the charity you're donating. That way you can be sure your money is actually going where it's meant to.  

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