In Las Vegas, reopenings include pitch by faux autism charity

faux autism charityThe United States is slowly coming out of the coronavirus shutdown. Businesses are reopening–like casinos today here in Las Vegas–and folks are going back to work. But that swelling workforce apparently includes those who labor in that section of the cold-calling telemarketing industry pushing would-be charitable-minded donors to make contributions–very little of which will go to the stated mission.

After several months of silence–hey, one might catch COVID-19 in boiler-room call centers–the phones at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters have started ringing regularly again with such pitches.

Following a trend first noted here two years ago, the calls have been on behalf of political action committees, or PACs. These, of course, aren’t charities at all, but conduits for political contributions and sometimes lobbying. They masquerade as charities. No more than pennies on the dollar are spent on the seemingly laudable mission. For the often-shadowy figures behind these enterprises, a big benefit is extremely light scrutiny by one of the most toothless regulatory agencies we have, the Federal Election Commission, as well as virtually no scrutiny at all by state charity regulators and private charitable watchdogs.

This week, I received a call from someone identifying herself as Susan. In a sweet tone, she solicited a donation for American Coalition for Autistic Children. She described this as an organization supporting lawmakers who favor funding autism research. I hadn’t heard of the enterprise and asked where it was located. She said Orland Park, Ill., which is a distant suburb of Chicago.

Picking up on the reference to aid legislators, I asked if American Coalition for Autistic Children was a PAC. “No,” Susan said. I then asked if it was a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. “Yes,” Susan said. The difference between the two is significant. A contribution to a 501(c)(3) organization is tax-deductible. A contribution to a PAC most definitely is not.

Both of Susan’s responses were incorrect. I could have asked if Susan was a real person, but I knew that answer. I was talking to a computer, monitored by a real human, using artificial intelligence to decipher my questions and provide answers–not always truthful, but answers nevertheless. Clearly, artificial intelligence isn’t always intelligent.

There is no PAC or 501(c)(3) charity that I can find with the name American Coalition for Autistic Children, in Orland Park, Ill., or anywhere else. I eventually reached an actual person working for the telemarketer. She said American Coalition for Autistic Children was a name used by another PAC, American Alliance for Disabled Children PAC. Indeed, American Alliance has a website saying it’s located in–Orland Park, Ill.

Aha! I quickly dug out Federal Election Commission filings for American Alliance. For me, that’s where the rubber really hit the road about the faux autism charity and its faux charity parent.

American Alliance, which also solicits using the name American Anti-Bullying Alliance, was founded sometime in 2019. From its creation to March 31, 2020, the latest filing, American Alliance received $445,000 in contributions. Of that, the PAC spent $438,000 in fundraising and what I would call related costs. But perhaps only about $7,000 was spent in what might be called furtherance of the stated mission for outreach: a Web presence, reimburse of some expenses and contributions to two other PACs.

As I see it, 98% of the money raised went right out the door for fundraising, and less than 2% of total expenses was spent in furtherance of the mission. I doubt many good-faith donors would be pleased to learn of such dreadful financial efficiency ratios. These are topics that telemarketers like “Susan” don’t bring up voluntarily and do everything they can to avoid addressing. Indeed, I’ve had a fair number of Susan-types hang up rather than answer even innocuous questions, like, “Where is your organization located?

I sent a request for comment to American Alliance through its website and will update this post if I hear back. But of course, not everyone may be back at work yet from the coronavirus closure like “Susan.”

For a later update on the American Alliance for Disabled Children/American Coalition for Autistic Children, click here.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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In Las Vegas, reopenings include pitch by faux autism charity — 49 Comments

  1. Well, I sent back the pledge to American Coalition for autistic children explaining that I did not believe they were reputable and attached a copy of this webpage + comments. I had to add extra postage it was so thick. I also got another call from them,not sure if it was the same number they called me from originally, but this time nomorobo flagged it as a robocall and blocked it. The number was 5624863593. So that’s good news. Or maybe my robocall just wasn’t working when they called the first time. I’m actually trying to find out from nomorobo because at this time you can’t access your blocked call history. I actually have a couple of things that block calls for me, my personal phone allows me to block 30 numbers, Spectrum also blocks some calls and then I have nomorobo which is free for VOIP landlines. My cell has hiya which only sends me warnings about suspicious callers (I’d have to pay to actually get them auto blocked, but after the call I can block and report them – this is also free. It’s amazing how many calls I never get. It does take a bit of housekeeping, but I’d rather do that than answer the phone.

  2. If you get called again, ask them to send you proof of your “pledge.”

  3. Ashley, if you’re talking to a computer, there isn’t much you can do to waste time or money. But if you’re talking to a real person, you can just keep asking questions about anything that pops into your mind–what is autism, is it a virus, is it connected with Covid, do you (the person that you’re chatting up) have autism, what has the organization accomplished with past donations, what is Orland Park like, etc. Sooner or later, the other end will hang up.

  4. I just got the call from Susan! Calling for the American Coalition for Autistic Children! I’d noticed that recent scam calls usually involved a PAC, so happy to find an article on the exact one I got today. I usually ask any callers I suspect of being scammers what percentage of my donation actually goes to whatever it is they claim to be raising money for. Sometimes when we get into a back and forth, I tell them that I’m sorry that making scam calls is the only job they can get and that it must be hard to live with that, etc. But that’s when I’m talking to a real person . This “Susan” was obviously not real. Many thanks to Sir Bedevere for the explanation and link.

    Do you have any suggestions on the best way to waste the money of whoever is profiting the most from these scams? Keep their employees on the phone? Have them mail me their pledge forms – actually, I don’t want to contribute to wasting resources, so maybe not that. Any other ideas?

    A few years ago I did some research on laws to protect consumers from these horrible people. Vermont had some laws in effect at the time but I’m not sure they still do. I hope someday to do some deep research and then contact my local state rep….

  5. They called asking me to follow through on a pledge I made – when I actually never made one. They try to catch you and followed up with paper work suggesting that I made a pledge when I had that phone conversation with them. Thanks for alerting me to their identity.

  6. I just got a call today 4/14/21 for this autistic coalition. I kept asking questions and getting vague answers and finally asked if the money went to lawyers and the answer was yes. I figured it was a scam, just wanted to see how far they would go. I told her no and to take my name off the list. She hung up.

  7. Bill H, that the organization’s telemarketers won’t tell you its address pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

  8. They’re still at it as of April 8th 2021.
    I’ve been getting a robocall every day for the past two weeks. This is the first time it connected me to a human because the AI detects I’m not serious and ends the call. They wanted my address to send something in the mail, I told them i wanted to remain an anonymous donor. After some resistance they agreed to take my CC over the phone but they do not accept bitcoin or walmart gift cards, I tried to see how flexible they were. They gave me the name American Alliance for Autistic Children, but would not disclose to me their address. Then I broke character and asked how they got my phone number and that I was on the do not call registry. Then they went silent. I guess they get paid by the minute so waited for me to hang up. Then I had to get back to work

  9. Jeff, the fact that other causes use the exact same script doesn’t automatically mean they’re all from the same organization. In my experience, there is a lot of unauthorized “borrowing,” especially if the pitch seems to be working. It is possible, though, that some of the sketchier causes use the same paid telemarketers.

  10. This is a scam organization. They run numerous other pitches with this exact same script. Not only do they run this pitch for child autism, but I’ve receive the same call with the same script for police officers, firefighters, “breast cancer research”, veterans, and probably more I’m not immediately recalling. After receiving about 40+ of these calls and refusing each time, I’m trying a new tactic. Now when they call, I’m wasting their time and money by making a pledge, letting them mail me their scam material, and of course not giving them one dime.

  11. Liz, the organization probably is afraid you or someone would tape the postage-paid envelope to a brick and mail it.

  12. Yes, they are sleazy. I will print out your post and send it. Of course, they do not supply postage free return envelope!

  13. Liz again, I am also returning the pledge card with a note as to why I am not honoring my pledge: “After reviewing your organization, I consider you to be a worthless PAC that does nothing to help children in need. I will not honor my pledge.”

  14. I recently got a call (3/8/21) from the American Coalition for Autistic Children PAC asking for a contribution. My standard response to all requests is that I do not give my credit card over the phone for any solicitation. (Often, they try to convince you to do so by telling you if you give right now, over the phone, your donation will be doubled or even quadrupled.) I stand fast, refuse and tell them to send the information in the mail. I will often pledge a certain amount in order to get them to agree to send the information. I got the mailing. This may not be what they used to do but they explicitly state that they are “a nonpartisan independent expenditure-only group (not a charity). . .” Then you can read a list of important political issues that are important to the cause. Then in large bold print is:
    “These are just a few of the many programs that we believe our elected officials should support. With your continued help, we can help elect leaders who will see that no child with a disability is ever treated unfairly.”
    The next paragraph says: “Thank you for your support. A large portion of the proceeds for this campaign are used to defray the costs of fundraising.”
    So they even tell you that your donation will hardly do anything of what they are touting. Amazing. Now, I am not sure if everyone gets the same letter. Maybe they have different rules for different states. I live in Maine. They do list their website in the letter.
    The website lists the location as
    American Alliance For Disabled Children PAC
    15255 South 94th Avenue, Fifth Floor
    Orland Park, Illinois 60462
    Phone: 708-428-6427
    info@americandisabledchildren.org
    American Alliance for Disabled Children PAC
    EIN: 84-2201106

    The donation would be sent to
    American Coalition for Autistic Children PAC
    4621 Outer Loop # 330
    Louisville, KY 40219-3970

    Due to my recent phone solicitations I have now added “I do not support any PACs” to my “I do not donate over the phone”.

    I noticed that many of the comments were made by people who are personally affected by autism. I am not. I think it especially despicable that they end up preying on vulnerable people.

    I also blocked the number from being able to get through again. I can only block 30 numbers, so if you have that option, put it to good use.

  15. Sylvia, I don’t know where you live, but you might consider complaining to whoever regulates charitable solicitations in your state.

  16. Thank you! My husband, who has mild dementia AND an autistic grandchild, got snookered. Despite that he actually paid once, before I intercepted and caught on, they continue to call (twice yesterday) saying they “have no record” of receiving his “pledge.” (I can verify with bank statement: he paid!) I hope those exploitative crooks get some karmic results from their loathesome scam.

  17. Thanks for your help in busting these greedy people! I was contacted, also, & was suspicious. I have an autistic grandchild & thought if this organization was legitimate I’d donate when I could check it out. I’m happy you shared your information for people to be informed!

  18. I got the call as well and made a pledge of $50 to an organization that I have never heard of on February 23, 2021. Would not give them a credit card and told them to send me a voucher. Got the voucher today and looked them up to insure the organization was legit. Thanks for the time posting this.

  19. Joe, depends on the state. But you’re not likely to get anything beyond maybe a snippy letter. What can the outfit do if you say you were deceived?

  20. I too pledged $35.00 to them but refused to give them a credit card. After pledging i researched them. Would anyone happen to know if these pledges are Legally Binding?

    Thanks

  21. Sarah, good for you. Such outfits are hoping the people called aren’t too bright.

  22. Thank you for your research and the information you provided. I received one of these calls today, was suspicious and hung up. Afterwards I read your blog post. As the mother of an autistic child, this type of scam sickens and saddens me to the core. If people really want to help, donate to Autism Speaks.

  23. Glad to help. I find PACs pretending to be legitimate charities particularly odious.

  24. Thank you for your article. I too got a call from them recently. I wasn’t comfortable giving my credit card # to some organization I had never heard of, so asked them to mail me the information on what they do. I got their mail today but it doesn’t say any thing at all about their work, just a request to send the $$ I had pledged. A quick Google search landed me here. Once again thank you for taking time and looking into them.

  25. I’m still waiting for comment from the “charity.” It’s only been about five months.

  26. Thank you, Mr. Barrett, for your post about this faux charity, from which a sweet voice called me today. By the time “she” hung up after I said for the third time that I was willing to look at information about the organization, I was certain “she” was a computer. Finding your post and reading the additional information in it is Very useful validation.

  27. This kind of outfit hates to mail out anything unless it has you on tape committing to a pledge.

  28. I just received a robocall from this organization. This was the first time. When I asked for the website or to have materials sent to reply to the call disconnected. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

  29. Yes, they don’t like to play up the PAC angle in the pitches because it’s a signal to moderately knowledgeable would-be donors it’s not a charity (and also not tax-deductible).

  30. Thanks for the information. I received a call from American Coalition for Autistic Children in September. The word “PAC” wasn’t in the script. She pressured me to make a $25 donation. I reluctantly agreed to $25 but refused to put it on a credit card. I did get the donation letter last week. It shows American Coalition for Autistic Children PAC and American Alliance for Disabled Children PAC. Pitching it in the trash.

  31. You probably reached my blog because I recently wrote about the faux charity that is American Alliance for Disabled Children PAC, d/b/a American Coalition for Autistic Children, in Orland Park, Ill. It is a rip-off. I don’t know where you live, but I suggest you complain to the state agency in your state that regulates charities. I imagine you can cancel the charge after it appears on your credit card statement by contacting the credit card company online. Good luck.

  32. I am complaining over a rip-off. I received a call from the Coalition Of Autistic Children. They wanted a donation of at least $35 or more. I thought they were on the up and Up. Having a grandson with autism, I said I would rather help him. I told her I was in my 80s and limited income. To make it short, I ended up at first saying $15 was all I could do. After talking with her, I ended up saying $35 and had her charge it to my Bank of America credit card. I trusted her. After getting off the phone I looked them up. They are not what she represented the to me. I could not call her back because some way they do not come up on caller ID (another sign they are taking advantage). I want to cancel the charge. For some reason, your web site came up. Sorry to bother you but between being ill, on oxygen, shut up in the house most of time since March, family worries and the election, this just really ticked me off. Sorry if you are not the person to email, but at least I told someone about this terrible way to prey on people who are old. Shame on whoever is promoting this.

  33. I’m amazed you got anything in the mail after refusing to pledge money sight unseen. In my experience, most of these kinds of outfits simply hangup without even so much as a goodbye at the first indication of donor resistance.

  34. Thank you for your article. I, too, was contacted for a donation and my response was, “send me the information and if you are truly what you say you are, I will donate.” Needless to say, I threw the donation information in the trash after receiving it when I read your article. Thanks again!

  35. Good for you for checking. Apparently, not everyone called by this telemarketer does.

  36. I just got a cold call from this organization and told them that I would donate by mail, they wanted a credit card number but I would not give it to them. I have a son who has autism who is now 25 years old and I have never heard of this organization. I am fairly active in the autism community. I looked them up and found these comments. Thank you so much all of you for posting them. When I get the envelope I will toss it and continue to make my annual donation to Autism Speaks. What a shame that they are using this disability as a scam

  37. Headline didn’t call the American Coalition for Autistic Children a “faux autism charity” for nothing.

  38. I got a phone call from a lady claimed from American Coalition for Autistic Children on Aug 11, 2020. After she talked for few seconds, I interrupted her. I usually interrupt the caller to check if that is real person or a recording. That’s a person. I said, “I know you want a donation. Can you just tell me your online info, your name ….. “. She said she wanted to mail me an envelope. I insisted that I won’t give out my address. When I asked her to spell out the Organization’s name so I can check out online, she just hung up on me.

    So definitely she is a liar and no such organization exist. Don’t donate money to she.

  39. Thanks for the information! One detail: Artificial intelligence isn’t quite up to answering phone questions yet. What you heard is called a “sound board”. The operator on the other end hears what you’re saying and manually triggers canned responses (a standard greeting, “yes”, “no”, “could you repeat that” and several dozen others) by pressing keys on a computer keyboard. Interesting article about it here: https://www.wnyc.org/story/i-am-real-person/#transcript

  40. I certainly agree it should be illegal. I imagine there are laws under which the organization could be brought to account, but that would require determined charity regulators, which, unfortunately, are in short supply. But good for you for doing your own due diligence.

  41. Thanks for this information. I recently was pitched for a donation and refused to provide access to a credit card for an immediate donation. I required them to send me something by mail so I could research the “charity”. Your info popped up on my Google search. This false representation should be illegal.

  42. goodwill is another collection of do-gooders who do good for their friends and families

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