Charity fraud alert: how to avoid getting scammed

A charity scam hit the valley, one of the largest charities in Arizona is deemed a fraud.

Federal investigators say the Breast Cancer Society in Mesa raised money to pay for their lavish lifestyles.

They're accused of using the donation money to buy cars, luxury items, and even cruises.

Now Arizonan's who want to give to charities are on high alert, because how do you know where the money is really going?

It's a good question, and FOX 10 has been investigating where you can get the information you need when you want to donate to charity.

There are thousands of reputable organizations out there doing good work in the community.

But if you ever had a question about just where your donation is headed there are some online websites to look up a specific charity and decide about donating.

The Breast Cancer Society in Mesa is now closed for good after federal investigators found that behind closed doors the organization's leaders were running a scam. They allegedly spent more than $200 million in charity funds on themselves.

"It's just unfortunate that this situation happened, but there are resources out there to protect you in situations when you want to give," said Felicia Thompson with the Arizona Better Business Bureau.

At the BBB's website, you can look up charities to see if they meet or don't meet a list of 20 standards. One of the standards looks at the fundraising to programming ratio.

"Our ratio is a 65 to 35 split, a charity should not be spending more than 35% on fundraising efforts," said Thompson. will also show you how a charity spends its money in a graph.

Organizations spending less than 1/3 of their budget on programming or a specific cause will get a 0 star.

Another site gives charities a letter grade and shows you the salaries of top charity executives in the country.

The bottom line, before you give, do your research. Make sure you are comfortable with how the charity spends donation dollars, and never feel pressured to make a donation decision right away.

"Legitimate charities, they are not going to pressure you to give on the spot, they are going to want you to check them out, learn about their mission, and learn about who they are, and they will take your money today, tomorrow, or next week," she said.

If you have a complaint about a specific charity, you can file it at or with your local BBB office.

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