They collected hundreds of millions of dollars from people across the country, including Hawaii, by claiming to help cancer patients.
But in an announcement Tuesday, the government says it was all a sham.
Hawaii is part of a lawsuit against four non-profits claiming to be cancer charities: The Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, The Children’s Cancer Fund of America, The Breast Cancer Society of America and their top brass.
It’s a historic lawsuit involving all 50 states that accuses four so-called cancer charities of taking $187 million from donors between 2008 and 2012.
“The defendants used direct mail and telemarketing to tell prospective donors that the money would help children with cancer as well as women with breast cancer,” said State Attorney General Doug Chin.
In an actual call made to a donor, a telemarketer asked, “Are you donating $10?”
“Yes,” the caller said.
“Go straight to the program. Will you be using your credit or debit card to finance that?”
Officials said telemarketers would use high-pressure tactics to get money, which should have been a big red flag.
Donors thought their money would help patients by paying for transportation costs to chemotherapy appointments as well as medical supplies and equipment.
But the money went to a variety of other things, including cars, trips, gym memberships, concert tickets, college tuition and even memberships for online dating sites.
“I mean, how low can someone be to ask you for money to help kids who have cancer?” said Steven Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection.
Officials believe there are some Hawaii residents who were victims, but they still don’t know how much money left the islands.
Settlements have also been filed. Three people who were involved have been banned from fundraising, and two so-called charities, Breast Cancer Society of America and Children’s Cancer Fund of America, will be dissolved.
But the Better Business Bureau Hawaii says the impact could be much larger.
“It’s really unfortunate because charities that have similar names to these bad actors can be directly affected. People will confuse them for the people that are using donors money unwisely,” said CEO Greg Dunn.
Litigation will continue against the other two groups, Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services.
There is a chance telemarketers could be trying to contact people to get more money.Click here for more information from the Federal Trade Commission.