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.”

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In Las Vegas, reopenings include pitch by faux autism charity — 14 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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

  6. 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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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