One of the worst things about sham charities is the fact that they make us cynical. They give us an excuse to give nothing to anyone. They poison the well for legitimate fundraisers supporting worthy causes.

One of the more egregious cases involving false charities was concluded recently when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and the AGs of 49 other states and the District of Columbia settled a lawsuit against a group of swindlers who ran a group of sham cancer charities that collected more than $187 million over a four-year period and spent about 3 percent of it on aid to cancer patients.

Much of the remainder went for cars, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, etc.

The punishment never fits the crime in cases like this. The leader of this group and his cohorts were fined $2.5 million, about 1.3 percent of what was donated. That will be distributed to approved cancer centers. (In Virginia, the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospitals and the University of Virginia Cancer Center are eligible.) They also are banned from fund-raising of any sort for the rest of their lives.

That’ll teach ’em.

Kudos to Attorney General Herring and the others for pursuing this matter. This was the first time that all the states and D.C. had joined forces to stop a bogus charity. The people who did this may have to wait for the afterlife to get their real “reward” for getting rich off others’ suffering, but at least they were stopped, and they did have to pay something.

There are many groups out there that are doing good work and deserve our support. The worst outcome from this would be to let it deter us from all charitable donations.

The AG’s office offers a few tips for separating the virtuous from the vandals:

• Give to charities you know and trust.

• Beware of groups whose names sound like other well-known, reputable charities.

• Don’t be pressured into making a quick donation requiring that you give cash or wire money.

• Ask for detailed information in writing.

• Find how much of your donation goes to the charity’s programs or services.

• See if the charity and its fundraiser are registered with the office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs in the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services at (804) 786-1343.

There are a lot of con artists out there. Virginia’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $301 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators.

Be a careful giver, but be a giver.

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The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

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