The internet is filled with scammers wanting a quick buck. The worst in my book are fraud or sham charities, and I’m going to outline some tips on how you can spot them and avoid them with the help of stand-up comic J.C. Ratliff.
Yes, he has green hair.
J.C. knows all about fraud charities. He was contacted by one and almost ended up tarnishing his reputation by dealing with two people who wanted to use the Wounded Warrior Project’s name to fleece people for money. I talked with him about the experience.
“They wanted me to do a roast of all these big name celebrities,” Ratliff told me via telephone on the road to another gig on the Quit Your Day Job Comedy Tour. “The big name was Trace Adkins. These two were getting money from outlets like WBIR (a local television station) and other groups. Next thing I know, all of these stars start to pull out of the event. Then organizations that donated money ask for their money back.”
“All of a sudden, the rules changed on me. I was told to dye my hair black. I wasn’t going to host the roast, I was going to be a part of the roast. Next I couldn’t insult the celebrities. I had to go after the companies that donated money, which any sane person would realize is incredibly disrespectful. The whole thing smelled rotten at that point so I decided to back out.”
And it’s a good thing Ratliff did, because it wasn’t long before the couple in charge of the benefit and their company were the subject of an investigation by the Tennessee Secretary of State and the Knox County District Attorney’s Office for potential fraud.
“Wouldn’t you know it? The day Trace Adkins actually released his tour dates it turns out he was booked at a show in West Virginia the night of the “fundraiser,” Ratliff said.
The internet, and sites like GoFundMe, have made scamming people out of their money even easier. Sometimes celebrities will even exploit the site and their fans for personal gain. Moshe Kasher is a benevolent example. Tila Tequila is a bit more selfish an example.
Moshe Kasher set up a GoFundMe to illustrate the absurdity of people who actually have money to pay for things using a charity website to just avoid paying for expenses. In May of 2015, Kasher created a GoFundMe to pay his rent even though he explicitly stated he had the money to pay. He just wanted his adoring fans to pay his rent for him, and he was completely honest about it.
About a year ago, I moved into a larger house and my rent went up by a factor of nearly double. At the time I felt that that would be ok, as my income had gone up enough to be able to afford my rent. I was right. My income has only increased since then and each month I am easily able to make my rent payment.
HOWEVER, I do not want to pay . It seems frivolous for me to spend my own money…when I can turn to the kindness and support of…most especially, my FANS, to help me pay my rent.
This is why I am turning to all of you. I keep wanting to use the phrase, “I need your help” but it’s important to me to be honest. I don’t need your help at all; I simply want your money to be spent in place of my own. (Emphasis added)
Kasher wasn’t using the site for any purpose other than to illustrate a point. People who can pay for stuff with marketable skills they have don’t need to be asking for charity on a site designed for charity. It got laughs, but Kasher’s GoFundMe was eventually pulled.
Tila Tequila was a bit different. In January of this year the reality TV star began a GoFundMe to have her fans pay for her to move out of a home costing her $4500 a month in rent. She promised in return all donors would get a phone call from her. All of this is great until you realize Tequila’s net worth is about $1.5 million.
Tila Tequila used GoFundMe to exploit her fans’ sympathy. She leveraged being a single mother and appealed to the emotions of her fans in order to fleece them from money she could have spent.
Her GoFundMe got pulled too.
So how can you avoid working with charities or giving your money to charities that are frauds or scam situations? J.C. Ratliff has several tips to help, and he was happy to pass them along.
1. If your point of contact isn’t the charity, that’s a red flag.
“If you’re dealing with a middle man, that’s where the problems come in.” says Ratliff. “Your first point of contact should be the organization, or someone with the organization. If they’re not, ask why. If you can’t get a good answer, then walk away fast.”
2. Meet the people you’re going to raise money for.
“Conference calls and email chains are great, but they don’t beat human interaction,” says Ratliff. He’s right. The best practice is to meet the people face-to-face so that you can know who you’re dealing with. “Phone calls are forgeable. Emails are forgeable. If you have a face to face meeting with the person, that’s different.”
3. Meet the people the charity supports.
“Say you’re working with a charity that’s going to build a house where parents that have kids with cancer can stay. Ask to meet the kids with cancer. If you can’t get that from the charity, walk away,” says Ratliff. Very good point. If the people you’re going to raise money for can’t take you to the source of where your funds will be heading, then it’s a warning sign.
4. Ask up front how much of the money raised is actually going to the cause.
This may seem like an “uncomfortable” question to ask, but it’s one the charity should be able to answer without hesitation. More often than not, charities spend more money on themselves than on the causes they champion, and the biggest names are often the worst scammers.
Take the Susan G. Komen foundation, for example. Every month in October various major organizations begin soliciting money heavily for Komen’s breast cancer research efforts. The NFL sells pink jerseys and has pink items that give money to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Very little money given to the Komen foundation actually goes to breast cancer research.
The site “Charity Navigator” ranks the Komen foundation two out of four stars possible for their work. According to their research, the Susan G. Komen Foundation actually only spends $0.12 out of every dollar raised for them on breast cancer research.
And yet people give the Susan G. Komen foundations millions of dollars for their “efforts.”
“The Komen foundation says the reason they don’t actually give that much out is because they’re over extended and under staffed,” said Ratliff. “They’ve been that way for a decade. What does that say about their ability to do business? I’m not a lawyer but I think there’s been court cases filed against them.”
It turns out a two second Google search will show you law review articles about how litigious the Susan G. Komen foundation really is.
Keep an eye out on these tips when you’re looking for a cause to support. It can mean the difference between money going to the right cause versus you lining someone’s pockets for no reason.
And if you’re a fan of great comedy, buy J.C. Ratliff’s debut album “Hope is a Virus”. It was recorded inside the last legal whorehouse in Tennessee. Also look up J.C. on Twitter @JCRatliffComedy.