Top Ten Charity Scams

By Luther Avery

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The internet is truly the wave of the future for all people, but then we have to include scammers and “matchstick men” into that equation.

Scammers have used the same “patterns of hustle” since antiquity, but now they’ve taken a new form: a virtual one. There’s almost no greater way to bilk someone out of money than to convince them that the money is going towards a worthy cause, so when you mix the anonymity of the internet with just the right emotional appeal, there’s no wonder there’s so many lecherous, but effective schemes to rob someone blind. Protect yourself from scams through the resources available through the Next Advisor Identity Theft review portal.

Here we have a list of the Top 10 most notorious, desperate, and dangerous charity scams that con-artists, virtual and otherwise, have used and will continue to use…all in the name of philanthropy.

10. Tsunami Victim Scam

Before the advent of the Internet, there was a saying that you “couldn’t cheat an honest man”. Through the internet, there are now literally hundreds of ways to bilk even the most righteous human being, but the old axiom still holds true.

Mike and Carol Hall were visiting the far East in 2004 when the tsunami disaster struck; they were unfortunately killed.  Scam artists then solicited e-mails stating that the couple had 10 million in their bank account when they died, telling individuals that if they pretended to be relatives to collect the inheritance, the couple’s lawyers would back up their claim for a share of the inheritance money.

Where the scammer profit came in was the “trust” fee that would be sent to the “lawyers” in good faith.

It’s unknown if these wretches were even arrested, but anyone who fell for this one deserved it may’ve whatever happened to them.

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9.  Virginia Tech Charity Scam

An official fund for the victims of the VA Tech shootings was set up online and at Virginia Tech itself following the tragedy, but given 25 fraudulent funds were set up online at the same time as the real one, it was difficult to discern which VA Tech charity was the real one.  People who fell victim to this VA Tech scheme faced the threat of identity theft more than simply being robbed.  Thankfully, the US Computer Emergency Response Team was instrumental in rapidly shutting these fraudulent sites down.

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8.  The Missouri AFCEF Charity Scam

The Armed Forces Children’s Education Fund is a legitimate, Washington-based charity that gives the proceeds of their donations to the children of soldiers killed during the Iraq War. However, a Missouri man who placed candy inside of several local vending machines and claimed that money from these sales would go to AFCEF was never an employee of AFCEF, and District Attorney Jay Nixon made this clear to Henry County, MO citizens with an indictment against the scammer.

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7.  The Foundation of Hope Scam

There are literally thousands of e-mail scams out there, but most of them are very transparent to the untrained eye. The Foundation of Hope e-mail scam is different in that the misleading e-mail is actually very convincing and professional in its appearance; making a heartfelt plea to the mark to donate money for disadvantaged Canadian youth.

The commendable people of deserve the credit for notifying people of this scam, and a few others like it very similar in its design. The eloquently-written FoH letter itself can be found at

6.  French Scientology Fraud

The Church of Scientology is not entirely corrupt, but to be fair, the late L. Ron Hubbard’s religious organization has been involved in more than too many financial-based scandals. Among these was the 1999 fraud trial of five French Scientology officials who took up to 14,000 Euros each from various church members for donations and “purification”, then pretty much pocketed the money.  According to news sources, even before this incident, Scientology was considered a “dangerous cult” in France.

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5.  The Deniz Feneri Foundation Fraud

The Deniz Feneri Foundation, an Islamic charity, faced backlash from the Muslim community in 2008 when Aykut Zahid Akman, lead organizer of charity, was convicted on fraud and embezzlement charges in Germany along with several members of his staff. The  leaders of Deniz Ferari are reported to have stolen at least 16 million Euros in donations from benevolent Muslims, then used the money to not only supplant their own lifestyles, but also to buy a cruise boat, a TV station, and Turkish stocks.  Aykut Zahid Akman was sentenced to 69 months in German prison while his staff received lighter sentences within maximum security prisons.

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4. The Nigerian 419 E-Mail Scams

Nndugu. This name and his many changing last names strikes fear into the heart of your average Internet user–or at least an eye roll. Millions of e-mails each year are sent by this assiduous Nigerian, and his jobs change more than The Pretender; one day he’ll be an ousted prince struggling to free his people, the next he’ll be a Nigerian charity president, then he’ll be the sweetest little boy trying to survive amidst African poverty. Nndugu always needs money, no matter how many people help him with his plight.

First of all, Africa isn’t as poor as some would have you believe.

Secondly, Nndugu doesn’t exist and he’s just the cover for one of the longest running and efficacious internet scams: the 419 Advance Fee Scam.

419 isn’t a Nigerian area code, it’s the penal code for which this crime falls under. The 419 scam may be the oldest mass-communications scam there is, as during the 1980’s it was done via fax machines, but due to the fact that the design of the 419 scam has been one of the most basic “confidence” tricks for centuries, we could consider the 419 scam to have existed long before the 1980’s.

The most common variation of the 419 scam is the “fake lottery”, where a mark is informed that they have won the lottery but must send money to a third party (a lawyer, the lottery commission, etc.) in order to have the money transferred to them. The charity variation of the 419 scam is far simpler; the scammer either poses as a non-existent Nigerian relief foundation, or a dying person who is willing to give the mark an inheritance to donate to charity. As sending money directly to the source would alert the mark, it’s usually requested the fees be sent to the subject’s “lawyer” instead.

Unmistakably, each and every person reading this article, regardless of where you live in the world, has had one of these e-mails fall into their box. This scam is best dealt with by never sending money to someone who requests it through e-mail.  Never ever.

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Thought Enron was bad? ACORN, through so many breaches of business and charity ethics might just be America’s current epitome for organizational corruption within a country where there’s a new corporate scandal daily.

Though to be fair, not all of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is corrupt, in fact the majority of the organization strives to do good things within their community. Since 1970, ACORN has been a very active and positive force in providing housing for the poor, as well as improving public schools and going court for community issues when the people in the neighborhood can’t afford a lawyer.  Having witnessed the effects of living poor, I wholeheartedly laud the concept and intent behind ACORN.

Unfortunately, ACORN’s infrastructure might just be dirtier than a 4th grader on Sports Day; the non-profit, non-partisan organization has been implicated in everything from voter registration fraud to embezzlement.

In 2008, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, Dale Rathke, was ousted from ACORN for embezzling $948,000 from ACORN and related charities-except he stole the money between 1999 and 2000. Huh? As it turns out, the leadership of the company knew about Dale Rathke’s indiscretion, but swept it under the rug until a whistleblower alerted the press in 2008.

It gets worse. According to the Washington Examiner which has given the story the most coverage, in the wake of the scandal, ACORN arranged for two members of the ACORN executive board to look into the financial scandal, but they barred these investigators from actually looking at the organization’s financial records.  When these ACORN employees sued ACORN for the documents, ACORN tossed out the suit and the board members.

Senator John McCain even suggested that ACORN was one of the groups responsible for America’s flailing economy, a sharp contrast to the fact that ACORN is supposed to be one of the saving graces for people deeply affected by the U.S. recession.

ACORN may be a legitimate organization that does far more damage than any purely fraudulent one.

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2. The Katrina Internet Scams

Between 2000 and present, two terrible things have occurred on American soils that have embedded themselves into our culture: 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina.  In the case of Hurricane Katrina, if FEMA’s failure to respond and the American president’s ineptitude weren’t bad enough, there was no shortage of opportunistic leeches prepared to steal from the displaced and disadvantaged in order to make their own pockets a little fatter.

The first scam of note was one located at and which was geared towards raising money solely for Caucasian victims of Katrina. Shortly thereafter, A Brazil website solicited millions of e-mails where the scammer posed as a representative of the American Red Cross.  ABC News described one of these websites as appearing very credible; the trick to this was when a “mark” clicked the donate button, their personal information was actually sent to the third party while the mark was redirected to American Red Cross website.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that following Hurricane Katrina, over 4,600 websites popped up, most either claiming they could send money to Katrina relief efforts or claiming to actually be a Katrina relief effort.  The Internet’s most devious truly used every trick in the book to bilk decent people out of desperately needed Katrina relief money through a combination of phishing and solicitous e-mail.

Thankfully, the federal government was quicker in shutting these internet abominations down than they were in actually responding to the hurricane.  Florida resident Gary Kraser was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for posing as a relief effort pilot on his fraudulent website,  Kraser even went so far as to keep a “tearful” web diary of his imaginary journeys to Louisiana, in which he wrote “I saw dogs wrapped in electrical lines still alive and sparks flying from their bodies being electrocuted, as well as some people dead already.”

Twenty-one months may not have been enough time.

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1. The 9-11 Charity Scams

It’s hardly a stretch to say that the tragedies of 9-11 not only transformed the American culture and consciousness, but also changed the world. 9-11 may be the ultimate source of every US triumph and failure within this decade, domestic or abroad.  The unspeakable crimes that took place on 9-11 caused royalty, elitists, politicians, even entertainment giants to waste no effort in financially curtailing the impact of the 9-11 attacks, and while America suffered through its darkest hour, fraudulent and opportunistic animals committed their darkest deeds.

9-11 set the criminal standard for using the internet to take advantage of a crisis; every internet based scam that has been included in this list was either used or originated from the 9-11 internet frauds. Through relief scams, false charities, variations of the 419 scam, cyber-hustlers literally used every trick in the book to dupe and steal from financial contributors worldwide.

9-11 charity fraud may be unique in that some cases may have involved individuals stealing from legitimate charities rather than donating to non-existent ones. A former Navy officer who was working at the Pentagon on 9-11 faced trial for allegedly faking a leg injury to collect $300,000 from a victim’s fund. When the case deadlocked, his wife was eventually tried, which also resulted in a hung jury.

9-11 may have set the standard for fraud and opportunism in the face of disaster, when people are the most emotionally vulnerable, but not everyone walks into the well-laid traps of these internet predators.  9-11, and the fraud that ensued, also awakened individuals to the dangerous world outside of American borders and within their own broadband.

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