Cancer fraud: stealing money and hope from sick people

Cancer fraud: stealing money and hope from sick people
This image is from the Federal Trade Commission's web page.

I choose to believe that the world is mostly a good place. Some days that's harder than others. Cancer itself throws down the gauntlet, of course. But cancer cells don't have intent, being true only to their molecular personalities. They simply are.

People, on the other hand, have choices. Some people choose to make a buck by stealing from sick people and their families. Turns out it's big business.

The New York Times reported yesterday that James T. Reynolds and his associates raised nearly $200 million dollars and spent it on everything from dating websites and trips to salaries and tuition. They did so through four "sham charities," according to the Federal Trade Commission,  including the Children's Cancer Fund of America. See the FTC's report here.

Although they claimed they were using the money on hospice care, travel to and from chemotherapy, and pain meds for kids, only 3 percent of the money went to these causes.

To put this number in perspective, know that the National Cancer Institute spends about $200 million dollars a year on research for childhood cancers. Reynolds and his "charities" could have funded an entire year of federal research on childhood cancer.

The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting have combined efforts to keep track of some of the worst charities in the United States. You can search their list here. The Cancer Fund of America, Reynolds' original "charity," is ranked #2 on their list. The FTC should have been on the Reynolds' trail much sooner.

Sadly, Reynolds and his group aren't the only ones who have used cancer to make money.

Sara Ylen, a Michigan woman, is serving a 1-year sentence for stealing thousands of dollars from an insurance company and from donations by faking cervical cancer. USA Today reports her story here.

Australian Belle Gibson also faked her terminal cancer, stole money and kept a blog about her "experiences." She told her readers that she had cured her cancer through diet and magnetic therapy but later admitted that she never had cancer at all. The Guardian's story about her is here.

The hardest part of all of this for me to fathom is not the money. I understand greed. But the despair these folks leave in their wake, the hope dashed, is simply overwhelming.

For the parents and families of sick kids, for all of us in the cancer community, it is an act of will to choose hope. And it's hard to choose hope in the midst of suffering. We all would love to hear that there are simple cures based on diet, that magic potions will make us well, and that deep pockets will fund research.

But the simple cures are lies, the potions make thousands of dollars for "natural health" companies while doing nothing about cancer, and dozens of fraudulent organizations lie in wait to take your cash for their own personal wealth.

This is how you avoid the scams. Listen to your doctors. Find the very best treatment at a National Cancer Institute-designated treatment center here. Download and read the protocol developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network for treating your cancer here. Make sure your doc is following those guidelines.

Before you give money to anyone, make sure you trust the person or organization you're donating to. The FTC has consumer advice here.

In the end, I push these awful stories away, do my homework, and choose hope. What else can I really do?

You might enjoy these blogs I've written on cancer fraud, too:

Cancer fraud: 5 signs you're being scammed

Cancer fraud: a $98 subscription won't cure your cancer

President of Institute for Natural Healing responds to her advertising being described as a scam

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