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Fake Charity

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"Charity has become so industrialized now that a bunch of rich assholes can throw a charity ball, charge $5,000 a head, and spend most of that cash on caviar-spewing ice sculptures. I can't trust charities anymore. Like a wino, I just expect them to take my twenty bucks and spend it on MD 20/20."
Drew Magary, Make It Stop

People can be persuaded to give money to strangers surprisingly easily, if they believe that the money is going to a good cause — like a charity organization. Jerkasses and bad guys will often take advantage of this by claiming to be collecting for a charity, when the fact is, they're keeping the money themselves. A Con Man may also use a fake charity, or lie about being a representative of a real one, as the tale to help part a fool and his new money.

From easiest to most involved and labor-intensive, the most common forms are:

  • The collector makes up an impressive-sounding, deceptive, or un-informative name, but there's no organization at all. He may hand-draw a label for a collection can. These generally don't produce a lot of money, but they can be trotted out pretty much whenever the conman feels like it — all he needs to do is come up with a new name (and make a new label.)
  • The collector holds a fundraiser for something (rare, weird or non-existent diseases are a favorite). This version can rake in a lot of cash in a very short time, but has a limited replay utility.
  • The collector creates the appearance of a legitimate organization: he has stationery or business cards made, along with the collection can labels. He may rent a bare-bones (desk-and-telephone) office, and might even have a P.O. Box in place of the can labels, or even a website that can receive donations. At this level, he may also convince well-meaning innocents to do collecting for him. These tend to have a limited lifespan, although they may become the next stage:
  • The collector actually creates an organization. This level requires both accomplices and dupes. The office will be convincing, with accomplices playing secretaries and co-workers. Dupes may be employed as collectors or office help. The one place dupes will never be used is in any position where they have access to the bookkeeping records.

Besides a simple desire for money, Fake Charities can also be used as an front for other activities, or a way to drum up resources for some other plan.

May backfire on the guilty parties, or not. Larger versions are likely to either be filled with Unwitting Pawns, or a bunch of cynics who are in on the con along with a lone believer in the charity. See also Poe's Law. May also include Faking Another Person's Illness. Taking it to the next level may result in a Scam Religion.

This is unfortunately Truth in Television, but there are many guides to recognizing fake charities and scams soliciting donations. Various "watchdog" sites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance rate real-life nonprofits on their transparency, accountability, and efficient use of funds.

Contrast with Involuntary Charity Donation, which is when people coerce you into giving to a real charity.


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    Comic Books 
  • Archie at Riverdale High #89: In "The Virtuous Villain", Cheryl Blossom, Jason Blossom and the other Pembrooke Academy snobs are looking for a new way to torment the Riverdale townies. The "Master of Machiavellian Merriment," Sidney Snavely, suggests that they trap Archie, Betty and Veronica into giving money to a fake charity to "Save the Hermit Hugabear." They don't realize that Sidney always has his own hidden agenda. Deciding that he is getting neither profit nor credit out of this scheme, Sidney waits till the collection is in full swing and then 'exposes' the scam; resulting in him being hailed as a local hero, and the perpetrators spending a night in jail.
  • In the comic: Future Five, as featured on Atop the Fourth Wall, Dr. Know uses a charity fund for homeless kittens as a front for his illegal activities.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • Very common in Miraculous Ladybug fics with Lila Rossi:
    • BURN THE WITCH kicks off with Lila starting one of these, roping poor Rose Lavillant into helping her with it. When Rose finds out that the money she raised ended up going towards Lila's wardrobe, she is incredibly distraught, and Hawk Moth turns her into Witch Hunter, who's out to (appropriately enough) Burn the Witch with a Capital "B".
    • A Christmas Liar by quicksilversquared has Lila attempting to set up one of those during the Christmas season (coincidentally, right after learning about the school's legitimate charity drive). Marinette knows better than to try directly calling her out, instead leveraging school rules to keep Lila from supplanting the real charity, encouraging people to use watchdog sites that will identify Lila's charity as an obvious fake, and convincing her classmates to keep careful track of how much money they collect and from whom so it can be recovered later.
    • The Karma of Lies features this as one of Lila's favorite cons. The story opens with her having convinced her classmates to donate a bunch of clothes which will supposedly go to impoverished families, only for her to secretly add the donations she likes most to her own wardrobe and dump the rest into a secondhand store outside of Paris.
      • Mylene gets hit especially hard by being her Unwitting Pawn, as she spent a lot of time coordinating with all of her contacts and convincing them to support Lila's various causes. Once they learned they were all fake, they assumed Mylene was in on the scheme from the start and blacklist her, much to her dismay.
    • One of Lila's schemes in you turned out to be the best thing i never had is a fake clothing drive. Allegedly, the clothes donated will be used to help save an endangered species (a direct reference to the below-mentioned Regarding the Sink example), but Rose and Juleka spot her wearing a donated blouse the next week.
  • The Ace Attorney fic Turnabout Santa Claus starts with the arrest of Kris Kringle for emptying a charity's bank account because they weren't really using the money to buy toys for children. By the second day of the trial, Phoenix has proven that Kringle is right; half of the organizations the charity claims to help have never heard of them, and the other half don't even exist; the charity's founders are just keeping all the donated money for themselves.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Jack of the Red Hearts, Jack and Coke panhandle with a fake Red Cross Bucket.
  • In The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope (as the Kid) gets every small-time hood on Broadway to help collect money for "The Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls." It's really to pay off his debt to a mobster.

  • Clue: In book #3, chapter 10 ("The Late Mr. Boddy"), the guests are sitting around discussing various crimes they've committed against their host; Miss Scarlet talks about having conned him into giving to a phony charity that was raising funds to develop a cure for a rare disease that turned its victims bright red.
  • The Hardy Boys: The Undercover Brothers book Pushed features the Haven, a shelter for homeless teenagers that raises millions of dollars in donations to get the kids into college. Most of that goes into the pockets of the director of Haven, and two kids who threaten her racket end up dead.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries: The Tiny Tim Project, from "Nightmare on Elf Street". In theory, it is a toy drive for underprivileged kids. In reality, Barnaby just pockets the cash from his sponsors and sells off the toys online. Scotty found this out, and that's why Barnaby did him in.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer: One of the lawyer's clients used a fake charity to trick people out of their money. The donations went to the defended cause but the organization used the donor's numbers to steal even more money.
  • Cribbins in Making Money poses as a devout Omnian collecting "for the kiddies".
  • Regarding the Sink has the "Beans Lift America's Spirit Tremendously!"/BLAST! drive. The aim is allegedly to give the people of China a proper source of protein so they'll stop feasting on an Endangered Species, but the species doesn't exist and the donated beans are actually getting fed to cows in a sweatshop to fuel the villains' plans.
  • In Thunderball the global terrorist organisation SPECTRE hides behind the front of a charitable organisation for the support of victims of World War II; its public head office is situated at 136, boulevard Haussmann in Paris.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: Jack's brother made up a hospital called "Chicago All Saints Hospital" and told people to just write out the initials when they were writing a donation check.
  • Arrested Development:
    • The Bluth family once held a fundraiser to fight a disease, though they hadn't yet decided which one. But the guests were more than happy to donate their money to ease the suffering of victims of TBA. To make things worse, while the first time this was genuine indecision, next year they did the same thing, and pretended George Michael was suffering from it.
    • Maeby had a fundraiser for her alter ego Shirley, who was said to be suffering from BS.
  • Brian Arthur Derek Boyes in BAD Boyes is a rare example of a Lovable Rogue who goes out with a fake collecting tin (generally Lovable Rogues disdain this, because you're preying on generosity rather than greed). He stays Lovable because he's only doing it because he's desperate; he needs to raise cash for the school bully or he'll be beaten up. As with Lucy and Ethel, his money then gets taken by the real charity he's using the name of. There's also some Hypocritical Humor in the novelisation; when his first attempt nets buttons and foreign money, he's outraged at the dishonesty of some people.
  • Season 9 of The Beverly Hillbillies started with a three-parter where Jed and clan repeatedly falling for a scam artist who had various bogus charities, all of which needed a million dollars and whose initialisms were C.A.S.H.
  • Boston Legal: Some friends of Denny Crane pulled a prank on him by tricking them into thinking the Republican Party wanted him as their presidential candidate. During the ceremony to announce him, they told him it was just a prank. Their laughter ended when some federal agents showed up to arrest them for using a phony presidential candidate to scam money out of people. As the pranksters tried to explain the situation, Denny explained he figured out they were pranking him and brought the "agents" as a payback.
  • In the Columbo episode "The Conspirators", the villain sets up a charity drive supposedly to benefit victims of The Troubles. The money is actually being used to arm IRA terrorists.
  • On Family Law, Rex represents a greedy woman who wants her ex-husband to stop his charities that give away millions a week in daily food flights to Africa. The man wins the case but when Rex stops by the foundation, he finds it's being shut down. He realizes the guy set this all up to keep money from his wife. Rex relates that if he reports the fraud, the guy goes to jail. The only way to prevent it is to let the Foundation become a legit charity and continue the daily food flights...which will leave the guy bankrupt in a year.
  • I Love Lucy: Lucy and Ethel run a raffle to raise money for "Women Overseas Aid," a charity they make up on the spot on the basis of, "We're women, we want to go overseas, and boy do we need aid." Eventually they figure out that doing such a thing is illegal, but just as they collect all the money, a representative from the real Women Overseas Aid organization shows up to collect their generous donation.
  • Impractical Jokers has done this as a challenge several times. The Jokers have to persuade people to give money to a made-up charity with an obviously ridiculous name, including "Handjobs Across America," "Get That Kid Out Of That Well," "Kolonics for Kids", and "Surprise Funeral." In one instance, the fake charity was called... wait for it..."Fake Charity". To everyone's astonishment, it got a donation!
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Dewey's attempts to sell cookie for his boyscout troop fell flat until he started telling people they were going to support the children of drug-addicted single mothers, even bringing Jamie along as an example of one of the babies they were 'helping'.
  • On The Mentalist, On the episode "The War of the Roses", the victim was killed because she realized the head of the charity she worked for was pocketing money that was supposed to be being used to build schools and other institutions in Mexico.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Sweet Charity", the IMF have to shut down a pair of charity scammers and recover the millions they have ripped off from donors. Complicated by that the money isn't stored in a bank account or in convenient paper form, but in platinum ingots.
  • The charity featured in Mr. Lucky's "The Sour Milk Fund" turns out to be one of these, as the title implies.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl and Joy ran one of these when they were still married, after seeing a commercial for an organization helping poor children in Africa. They only managed to get one "donor." After a time, Earl had given up on it...but Joy kept it up, even long after she had divorced Earl and married Darnell. She sent the "donor" pictures of a boy named "Mbungo," that were really just pictures of Earl Jr. and a fly. Two of her friends from the trailer park got in on the scam, too. In order to make up for it, Earl tricks the "donor" into getting out of town for a week, plants a fake will, and gets back from Joy and her neighbors the amount he'd donated over the years. But this causes disasters to happen in Pimmit Hills Trailer Park for real, and the old man donates money to help the families get back on their feet, even though they screwed him out of money. The old man explained to Earl that he wasn't upset that his money was being stolen, but that he wasn't actually helping people and this was his chance to do it for real.
  • Our Miss Brooks: In the episode "Bobbsey Twins in Stir", a conman is tricking people into selling fake tickets to the policemen's ball. The proceeds are supposedly going to "widows and orphans".
  • In the Porridge Where Are They Now special Norman Stanley Fletcher: Life Beyond the Box, "Horrible" Ives, the most despicable and untrustworthy character in Slade Prison, is now supposedly collecting for "Help The Blind Doggies".
  • Seinfeld:
    • In "The Strike", George is miffed about getting a gift from Tim Whatley that amounted to a card saying a donation has been made in his name to a charity. Then he gets equally miffed that he has to get Christmas gifts for all his coworkers. He solves the problem by giving all of them donation cards for a charity he made up called the "Human Fund". His Pointy-Haired Boss Mr. Kruger, himself tasked with finding a charity to give some money, hands George a $20,000 check made out to the Human Fund. George considers actually cashing it, but not to keep the money for himself — he's actually thinking about starting the charity for real. Then Kruger finds out the Human Fund doesn't exist, and he's pissed (not because of the money, but because George gave him a fake Christmas gift). George has to pretend he didn't want to admit that instead of Christmas, he celebrates "Festivus", the holiday his dad made up. And that's how he took his boss to the bizarre Festivus party.
      Jerry: (skeptically reading the donation card) The Human Fund... "Money for people."
    • In "The Truth", Jerry is audited by the IRS for donating to a bogus charity. And the only reason he donated was that this was back when he was dating Elaine and he was trying to impress her. In his defense, he didn't know it was a fake charity; Kramer had convinced him to give to the "Krakatoa Relief Fund", which Jerry assumed was collecting money for victims of a volcanic eruption but turned out to be collecting for the volcano itself.
      Elaine: Now you're being audited because of it. See? That's karma.
      Jerry: No, that's Kramer.
  • On She Spies, the team is tracking a charity for disabled kids they believe is a front for a pack of criminals. D.D. befriends the girl in a wheelchair used in the charity's posters. She's shocked when the girl drugs her. Meanwhile, Jack is looking over the records to realize the exact same girl has been used in the charity's posters for the last decade. It turns out she's really the mastermind and in her 30s with a genetic condition that slows her growth. In a Black Comedy bit, when the team busts them, D.D. yanks the "girl" out of the wheelchair and tells her off for using people who trusted her. She lets her go...only to discover that while the woman was lying about her age, she really did need the wheelchair.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: It's strongly implied that the "Bajoran War Orphans Fund", mentioned by Quark on a number of occasions, is actually just another one of his slush funds.
  • The Tales from the Crypt episode "For Cryin' Out Loud" centers on rock promoter Marty Slash hosting a concert that raises $1,000,000 to help save the Amazon. In reality, Marty is taking all the money and running off to Portugal since he's he's gotten sick of being treated like a nobody by the rock stars he's worked with. His plan hits a snag when he starts very loudly hearing his conscience, and then escalates when his banker tries to squeeze him for half the money, which just gets her killed.
  • On Weeds Doug's hedge fund is shutdown by the SEC but he manages to siphon off a lot of money and transfers it to a fake charity. However, his Conspicuous Consumption causes the charity to be investigated and he has to turn it into a real charity or go to jail. He tries to provide shelter to the homeless and is actually semi-successful. In the end he decides to give up on the charity idea and instead starts his own religious cult.

    Print Media 
  • This anecdote, published in Reader's Digest and cited by Snopes in their discussion of another urban legend hinging on the same wordplay:
    In our college post office, a collection box appeared marked: Help The Blind Fund. It filled up rapidly with small change. One day it was replaced by a card which read: Thank you for your contributions. The Venetian blinds for our dormitory room have now been purchased.

  • In Bleak Expectations, one of Mr Gently Benevolent's schemes involved persuading Pip Bin to donate all his money to a charity with the initials "G.B"., and to leave long spaces between the initials on the cheque.

    Video Games 
  • Frank Fontaine in BioShock ran a lot charities used for nefarious purposes, such as orphanages used to turn little girls into ADAM factories, free clinics used to perform medical experiments on people, and poorhouses used to gain the support of the city's lower classes.
  • The "Blight Orfans Notis Bord" in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening is run by a pair of drunks who try to con the player into giving them stuff, often by stealing from people who the drunks hate. If you only do the quests that don't involve theft, then one of the drunks is humbled by your kindness and creates a real charity.
  • Tesso from Onmyoji scams people by telling a sob story about how he's such a poor rat who needs money to repair a badly run-down monastery. He manages to scam two different people with this, one of them being the (supposedly) jerkish Hiromasa.
  • Something like this was mentioned in the backstory of Portal. As Cave Johnson's sanity started to degenerate, he worked on some rather absurd and morally questionable projects, one of which was the "Take-a-Wish" foundation, which was supposed to be a charity that would give the wishes of dying children to unrelated, entirely healthy adults. This, along with his other projects, were commercial failures that led to an investigation by the U.S. Senate, but it did attract the attention of someone who was willing to gave Aperture Science an open-ended contract... which is what led to him building GLaDOS.
  • In Postal 2: Paradise Lost, one of the errands on Wednesday tasks you with acquiring money through a scam charity to feed Mike J's fiancée's "insatiable chocolate habit". Like much of the game it's frequently poked fun at, with the Dude repeatedly referring to his fake charity as "slightly-suspect" or "clearly on-the-level".
  • Eliza from Skullgirls is a famous (in-universe) lounge singer who hosts blood drives. However, she actually is a blood-powered immortal and keeps the donated blood for herself and her skeletal parasite Sekhmet.
  • In Rock Star Ate My Hamster, there's a chance of any charity gig you accept being a fraud, leading The Stun to run the headline: "ROCK STAR DUPED BY SICKO CHARITY!"
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: The Player Character is sent to sabotage a charity event at an upscale art gallery, which they can learn is actually a power play by another local vampire who's pocketing the proceeds. Stealing the donation box doesn't penalize the Karma Meter if they know this.
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon: One of the many sidequests in the game is helping a girl named Megumi collect donations to help fund her little brother's surgery. Unfortunately, a rather shifty-looking group of charity collectors happen to be on the same turf and Ichiban is told they're likely to be scammers, which is confirmed to be true when Ichiban overhears two of them talking about Megumi receiving more donations than them and how they were using the money for their own selfish reasons. Ichiban steps in when he hears them threatening to hurt Megumi and teaches them a lesson, after which they promise to leave her alone and genuinely thought she was pulling a con as well. Later on, Ichiban goes to check on Megumi and the fake collectors come by to donate a small portion of their earnings.

    Visual Novel 
  • In Platinum, Chapter 7 has Raleigh disgusted at the charity event they attend with Cadence, telling her that out of all the money donated, only 5% of it is actually going to the cause it's supporting. The rest is all "overhead" for things like champagne, wagyu beef, ice cream with 24k gold flakes, hiring string quartets and cleaning the red carpet. They consider these charities as the rich having an excuse to throw parties or feel less selfish by donating to a cause.

    Web Original 
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall, Linkara identifies being involved in charity work as one of the prime signs of someone being a villain.
  • Garnet and Gure features the Hearts for Brains foundation, showcased in this cartoon short, which is devoted to wiping out the zombie virus. There is also some cursory mentions of something called "Save a Couple Whales," which gets specially thanked in a couple of the cartoons' credits.
  • On The Edge: The Punishment episode Why did he punch the guys that were collecting donations for children? centers on Jiro getting a job at a charity to help sick children. However, he starts noticing something off with the charity. The higher-ups praised the winners and demoralized the losers as if it was a competition. Later on, when Jiro went back to the office to retrieve his wallet, he overhears the higher-ups talking to each other about how they're getting rich with the charity business and how people are too dumb to notice.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Gripes" centers on Gumball and Darwin accidentally creating a fake charity for themselves: they damaged their clothes because they were in a bad mood, so everyone assumed they were poor and start donating huge amount of money on the spot. Any of their protest that they aren't poor are initially assumed to be Don't You Dare Pity Me!, then met with violent threats by the crowd for deceiving them. Ultimately, Gumball and Darwin avoid being lynched by damaging their own house so much that they genuinely needed that money for the repairs.
  • Beetlejuice once planned to used one to scam people out of money. At some point, he had a change of heart but someone did steal the money and Beetlejuice was Convicted by Public Opinion. Not that it was hard to believe he was guilty given his reputation.
  • Ducktales 2017: Louie apparently has a fake charity called "Louie's Kids." The first season implies that he just uses it to get extra allowance from Uncle Donald, but in season 3, Officer Cabrera hints at pressing charges to get Louie nervous, indicating that it's larger in scale.
  • Family Guy shows a variation in the episode "Dial Meg for Murder." When Meg, now a vicious criminal after spending time in jail, forces Brian to drive her to Mort's pharmacy, she holds him at gun point and demands that he give her the money in the register. Mort tells her to take the children's hospital donation jar, since he doesn't give them the money.
  • The classic Soviet cartoon series Funtiks Adventures starts when the eponymous piglet refuses to participate in a charity scam ran by an old millionaire lady.
  • Wheel Squad: The charity was real. The snakes simply pretended to be a part of it.

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Thneed's "Charity"

"A portion of proceeds goes to charity."

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Main / FakeCharity

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