Breast Cancer Awareness Also Means Being Alert To Scams, Pink Product Puffery, BBB Advises

October 21, 2011

pink ribbon With charities and consumer product companies raising as much as $6 billion a year for breast cancer research, consumers are faced with a dizzying array of pleas for direct donations and pitches for products decked out in pink ribbons.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges consumers to take the time to research the charities seeking their money and to understand claims by marketers of products that purport to benefit breast cancer research. BBB research has shown that some companies are vague about how much of the purchase price of their products benefits charity or which charity receives the money.

While many charities use donations wisely, questions have been raised about the amount of money other nonprofits actually spend on research or support for breast cancer victims. For example, the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer, calling it a “sham charity.” The lawsuit accuses the charity’s founder, Andrew Smith, his girlfriend and their associates of pocketing nearly all of the $9.1 million the charity raised over the last five years.

Some charities also have been accused of fudging their reports to the Internal Revenue Service by calling telemarketing efforts “education” if the phrase, “Don’t forget a mammogram” is stamped on their stationery.  Roughly 1,400 tax-exempt charities nationwide are breast cancer-related.

With National Football League players sporting pink chin straps and cleats, it’s clear that breast cancer awareness is at an all-time high. But a product has to do more than turn itself pink to do good for charity, and a charity needs more than a name to make a difference.

Consumers can find reports on charities at the BBB website. The BBB’s Charity Information Service examines the percentage money a charity spends on programs, its governance, fund-raising, informational materials and effectiveness. Charities who meet all 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability can become BBB Accredited Charities.

Some tips for avoiding charity scams include:

  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do.
  • If you contribute, do not give cash.  Make a check or money order out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.
  • Watch out for excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations.  Be wary of any requests to send a “runner” to pick up your donation.
  • Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs.  Ask how much of your gift will be used for the activity mentioned in the appeal and how much will go toward other programs and administrative and fundraising costs.
If you want to support breast cancer charities by purchasing products, the BBB advises that you look into how that purchase will benefit a charity and which charity will get the money. More tips:

  • Inspect the product for information.  Many companies clearly report on labels how much of their sales go to charity and specifically where the money goes.
  • Check the company’s website.  If the information isn’t on the product itself, it often can be found at the website address printed on the product packaging.
  • If you still can’t find the information, call the company and ask for it. Firms that use charity tie-ins to market their products should be transparent to consumers.
  • Contact the charity directly if you have doubts they are receiving proceeds.
  • Check out the charity to decide whether you believe it is worthy of your support. One way to do this is by contacting the BBB to determine whether the charity meets the BBB’s 20 Standards for Accountability. You may reach the BBB by going to or by calling 330-253-4590.
Before you do business with a charity or company, check their BBB Business Reviews at or by calling 330-253-4590.

Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800,, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell),