CHICAGO (WLS) -- In one of the largest charity fraud cases, four cancer charities are suspected of scamming donors out of nearly $200 million in all 50 states.
At a time when legitimate charities struggle to maintain support, it seems some were taking advantage of people's generosity and concern about care for cancer patients.
On Tuesday, the federal government and several states, including Illinois, announced cases against what they call fake charities, and warned prospective donors to be cautious.
The Federal Trade Commission teamed up with 36 states to go after four "sham charities" that solicited donations nationwide:
-Cancer Fund of America Inc.
-Cancer Support Services Inc.
-Children's Cancer Fund of America Inc.
-The Breast Cancer Society Inc.
The four charities allegedly told donors their money would assist patients with their care or transportation, but that's not what investigators found.
"Most of the money donated was spent by the sham charities supporting themselves, as well as friends and family of the principals of these organizations," said Todd Kossow, Federal Trade Commission.
Kossow, with the Chicago office of the FTC, said executives with the sham charities were actually spending money on themselves: trips, parties, and even a dating service.
In all the FTC estimates the four groups collected $187 million between 2008-2012 through telemarketing, direct mail, and websites.
"To me, the most astounding thing in our complaint is, our complaint alleges that out of all the money these folks took in collectively, that only 3 percent of that money actually went to cancer support services," Kossow said.
There are certainly those in need and plenty of legitimate charities doing good work. But the FTC warns to ask directly what you money would do and to not feel pressured to make a donation. Take your time and research the charity before you make the donation.
Before you give, here are some things to consider and some resources to find out more about the charity:
'Fake' cancer charities scammed $187M from donors, FTC says