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.
Contrast with Involuntary Charity Donation, which is when people coerce you into giving to a real charity.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cribbins in Making Money poses as a devout Omnian collecting "for the kiddies".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- "The Strike." Also known as "The Festivus Episode." George Costanza creates a phony charity called "The Human Fund" (with the slogan "Money for people") in this episode that nearly gets him the axe at work. Unusually for this trope, he didn't create the fake charity to steal money from anyone. Rather, he created "The Human Fund" to skimp on Christmas gifts for his co-workers by simply giving them cards stating that he made a donation to "The Human Fund" in their name.
- In another episode, Jerry gets audited by the IRS because he donated to a bogus charity that Kramer had been taken in by. Said charity was the "Krakatoa Relief Fund", which ostensibly collected money for the volcano itself.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The charity featured in Mr. Lucky's "The Sour Milk Fund" turns out to be one of these, as the title implies.
- Mission: Impossible: In "Charity", the IMF have to shut down a pair of charity scammers and recover the millions they have ripped off from donors.
- 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.
- 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'.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!"
- 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.
- Wheel Squad: The charity was real. The snakes simply pretended to be a part of it.
- Beetle Juice 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.
- 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.
- The classic Soviet cartoon series "Funtik's Adventures" starts when the titular piglet refuses to participate in a charity scam ran by an old millionaire lady.
- Ways you can spot a fake (or potentially fake) charity:
- It is not registered with your local/state/provincial/federal government.
- Charity watchdog sites either do not list it, or have listed it as suspicious.
- A representative who is collecting for the charity either cannot or will not answer any questions you have.
- They ask for donations using wire transfers, cash, money orders, prepaid cards and the like.
- They don't provide either a mailing address or a physical address, or they do, but it's fake.
- They don't provide a phone number, or they do, but it's fake, or no one ever answers.
- You're made to feel guilty, or like you're selfish/a bad person/etc. if you don't want to donate, or don't want to donate now.
- A collector either cannot or will not supply identification, or their identification is bogus.
- They keep hounding you for donations, even after you've told them to stop calling or sending you mail.
- Their website looks almost exactly like that of a legitimate website, but the details concerning where to donate and whom to donate to are different.
- It purports to help a local fire or police department or hospital, but the actual fire department/police department/hospital has no knowledge of this charity or fundraiser.
- They solicit donations from you via email campaigns. Generally speaking, real charities don't solicit donations through email. (This could be a variation of the classic 419 Scam.)
- 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.
- One common complaint about crowdfunding websites such as GoFundMe is that it's very easy for any scammer to post a sob story and receive donations. The sites do have fraud reporting tools, but they also can be lax about following up on how people use the donations they receive.
- Of course, this is every bit as illegal as conning people out of their money by any other means, and people have gotten jail time for it when they've been caught.
- Be wary of charities or fundraisers you've never heard of that pop up all of a sudden in the wake of a natural disaster or some other type of humanitarian crisis. While some of them are legitimate, at least an equal number of them are the result of Con Artists looking to take advantage of the chaos, and take advantage of the generosity of people who want to help. And you might not be able to tell which is which until it's too late. If you want to make donations towards disaster relief organizations, your best bet is to find a reputable charity through one of the aforementioned "watchdog" sites.