HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement partners in all 50 states alleges that four cancer charities swindled donors out of millions of dollars. Investigators don't yet know the number of victims in Hawaii.
"It's unfathomable. You wouldn't even think about it, but unfortunately there are people out there that are doing this and are preying on people's goodness," said Steven Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection.
The civil complaint targets The Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, The Children's Cancer Fund of America and The Breast Cancer Society. All four are run by members of an extended family. The FTC said the groups collected more than $187 million from donors between 2008 and 2012, but only 3% of the donations went to patients. Most of the money paid for professional fundraisers, lucrative employment, and lavish personal benefits, according to the complaint.
"Cars, gasoline, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, tickets to sporting events, dating websites," said Hugh Jones, supervising deputy attorney general.
The charities relied on high-pressure fundraising tactics, including telemarketers. Two of the groups have already agreed to close down.
"It's heartbreaking for us to learn that Hawaii donors and American donors were bilked out of their hard-earned dollars by a couple of bad actors who are giving the charity sector a very bad name," said Gregory Dunn, president of the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii.
Authorities are reminding people to research a charity before donating. Websites run by the Office of the Attorney General of Hawaii and the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii offer access to key financial data.
"An accredited charity in the state of Hawaii undergoes a complete review of their financials, their governance and programmatic effectiveness," explained Dunn.
The Office of the Attorney General is asking anyone who donated to these charities to come forward.