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Breast Cancer Charities: How To Donate Wisely and Avoid Scams

Updated on November 1, 2012

Make sure your breast cancer donations count.

During October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S. - we're all bombarded with appeals from organizations claiming to fight breast cancer. Pink ribbons are everywhere you look. And telemarketers are busy collecting donations on behalf of organizations that may--or may not--be legitimate warriors in the fight against this disease that claims 40,000 lives a year in the U.S. These tips will help you choose an organization that is worthy of your donation.

Never give your credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
Never give your credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

5 Tips for Avoiding Breast Cancer Charity Scams and Donating Wisely

1. Never give a donation by phone, unless you placed the call. Don't give in to a high-pressure call from a telemarketer. Tell them that you never give donations by phone and ask them to send you information by U.S. mail. Scammers will probably hang up on you at this point.

2. Before donating to any organization, be sure they're allowed to do business in your state by checking them out with your local Better Business Bureau and state Attorney General's office.

3. If a charity passes this first test, research them with help from a charity ratings organization (see the list below). Find out what percentage of donations are used for administration and fundraising expenses and be sure you're comfortable with that figure.

4. Use a major credit card instead of a check or debit card to make your donation. If the organization turns out to be a fraud, you can work with your credit card company to reverse the charges.

5. Before sending a donation, check out the organization to find out what they support. Would you rather focus your donation on research, prevention, detection, or patient care? Some charities do a bit of everything, but others focus on one aspect of the fight against cancer.

New York "Coalition Against Breast Cancer" investigated by Attorney General - New York breast cancer charity spent less than 1/2 of 1% of donations on cancer pr

Why is it important to research a charity before you donate?

1. Legitimate breast cancer charities need every penny they can get. Your donations help support anti-cancer research, treatment programs, education programs, and prevention. In a real sense, sending a donation to a bogus "charity" could be life-threatening to a woman who needs help, or a woman who won't get information about early detection.

2. The less money a legitimate charity has to spend on fundraising, the more it can spend on its programs. The faster these bogus "charities" are discovered and shut down, the better, so that legitimate charities don't have to compete against them.

3. Bogus "charities" help keep questionable fundraising and telemarketing firms in business, some of which are no better than "boiler rooms."

4. Donations to fake charities that are not 501(c)(3) organizations aren't tax deductible, so you can't claim them on your tax return.

Here's just one story of a bogus breast cancer charity that robbed well-meaning donors to enrich its founders. As reported in "The Big Business of Breast Cancer" in the September, 2011 issue of Marie Claire magazine,

"Last June, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed suit against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer, calling it a "sham charity" that for 15 years "served as a personal piggy bank" for the group's insiders. According to the complaint, founder Andrew Smith; his girlfriend, Debra Koppelman; and their associates pilfered almost all of the $9.1 million raised in the past five years alone. Other eye-opening claims: The telemarketing firm hired to solicit donations was owned by CABC cofounder Garrett Morgan, who billed the charity $3.5 million for his services. In total, Smith and Koppelman paid themselves more than $550,000 in salaries between 2005 and 2009, plus another $150,000 in retirement accounts, this though both held down full-time jobs as recruiters. The CABC issued Smith a $105,000 personal loan, which he squandered on bad investments; Koppelman authorized a $50,000 loan to herself toward the purchase of a home. (CABC is contesting these claims.)"

Products that support breast cancer charities - When you buy these products, a portion of the proceeds goes to a reputable breast cancer charity, according to t

How to Avoid Breast Cancer Charity Scams - Learn how to use the Employer Identification Number to research organization asking you for a donation.

Where to Research Breast Cancer Charities Online

These organizations offer free information on charitable organizations and non-profit groups working to research, prevent, treat or support breast cancer and breast cancer patients in the U.S.

Local news reports on how to check charities with the Better Business Bureau - "Breast Cancer Society" spends 85¢ of every dollar raised for fundraising expens

Essie 2012 Breast Cancer Awareness Nail Colour, I Am Strong. Photo from Amazon.com.
Essie 2012 Breast Cancer Awareness Nail Colour, I Am Strong. Photo from Amazon.com.

Not all "pink" products are created equal.

During October, pink ribbons show up on a lot of consumer goods, from yogurt to bottled water. Don't assume that a portion of the sale goes to a breast cancer charity just because the product is pink. Read the label to find out if you have to register your purchase, send in proof of purchase, or do something besides purchasing the product for the charity to benefit.

And check out the recipient charity itself to be sure your purchase supports a legitimate organization. Pictured is Essie 2012 Breast Cancer Awareness Nail Colour, "I Am Strong," listed for sale on Amazon.com. The product listing says "a portion of the proceeds going toward the battle against the disease" but doesn't specify the amount or the charity, so you'd have to do more research to discover where your money may end up.

Don't be fooled by the pink ribbon

Unfortunately, breast cancer charity scams are not uncommon, and this month you're likely to get appeals by phone, mail and email from organizations who claim to be deserving of your funds.

Just yesterday I received a call from a woman claiming to be with "The Breast Cancer Foundation." She read a very emotional appeal from her telemarketing script, and actually implied that I wanted women to die of breast cancer if I didn't whip out a credit card immediately and giver her a big donation. When I started asking her questions about where the charity was located, how much they spent on administration, etc., the telemarketer hung up on me.

When choosing to donate to help in the fight against breast cancer, be sure that your hard-earned dollars are actually going to a legitimate organization. Be sure those donations are being spent wisely. And if you're hoping for a tax deduction, be sure that the organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and provides you with a receipt for your accountant.

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      Kathleen Gee 2 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for the thumbs-up, lairupe. :)

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      SpiritOfHalloween 5 years ago

      I love your lens because you've highlighted one of the most important issues. I myself have got so many donation appeals and it is always difficult to choose the legit ones. Your lens is really helpful.

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      Anime-e 5 years ago

      I love squidoo lenses that are supporting breast cancer! Such an awesome lens you have here!