The Federal Trade Commission has accused four cancer charities of defrauding well-meaning donors for over $187 million. Today, the FTC and law enforcement groups from all 50 states have filed a complaint against the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society. The complaint alleges that these four “sham charities” solicited millions in donations by promising to help pay for hospice care, chemotherapy, and other services for cancer patients. But only a fraction of that money actually went to patients. The rest went to company cars, high salaries, and even a Caribbean cruise.

“The defendants took in millions of dollars in donations meant to help cancer patients, but spent it on themselves and their fundraisers,” says FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich. The charities employed for-profit fundraisers who “typically” received 80 percent or more of every dollar raised, providing little oversight. Between 2008 and 2012, the companies reportedly raised $187 million, and they reported $120 million in fundraising costs. The four charities spent between 2.4 percent and 3.4 percent of their money on actual aid.

The remaining money went to employees who were often family and friends of the charities’ operators. Most of what fundraisers told donors was allegedly misleading, and much was outright false. This included promises that “one hundred percent of our proceeds go to hospice care,” for organizations that didn’t fund hospice services at all.

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