Belief Beat

Belief Beat

Faith-Based Charities – and Cons – Gear Up For Holiday Season

I’ve just written a Religion News Service story about whether people of faith make easier marks for con artists, prompted by the news of a Ponzi scheme that scammed $30 million from Chicago-area Muslims, along with other affinity frauds that have targeted Jews (Madoff, anyone?), Mormons, evangelical Christians, etc., in recent years. 

There aren’t any official stats yet on whether being religious makes you more likely to be swindled, or whether particular denominations are more often defrauded than others, but the experts I consulted say there’s a link between religiosity and increased trust/naivety, and that Mormons and evangelical Christian groups with strong social networks seem to suffer a disproportionate amount of fraud.


With that in mind, and the holiday giving season upon us, check out Nicholas Kristof’s column for The New York Times, “When Donations Go Astray.” If you want to donate to a faith-based charity, he has some advice for ensuring that your money gets to the right place.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 10:18 am

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus said, “Where your money is, there will your heart be also”. A correllary to this is, Where your heart is, so also should be your time. If people make the time to get involved in the organizations to which they give there would be less schemeing and more actual help accomplished. If an organization wants only your money and not your time, it is indeed very suspicious. If you cannot invest your self in a cause, it is usually not as worthy of your money. Because we encourage our church members to get involved they are more willing to contribute to the work we do.
Give where you live – a motto to live by.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 10:28 am

Affinity fraud works well within organizations that extend trust to in group members and authority figures. For example Bradford Bleidt ran a 20 year Ponzi scheme where he targeted Masons. Madeoff used his position of being on the board of Jewish charities to steer the money into his Ponzi scheme.
Religions seem to share both of these properties, so it seems likely that religious people are more likely to be defrauded. I would argue that televangelists are often fraud schemes pretending to be religious ministries.
Non-religious people might have an advantage because they are not part of the trust networks, nor do they see someone like Madeoff as an authority figure. I think it is likely that they are by nature more skeptical/cynical than religious people which would also protect them.

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Jack West

posted November 23, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I like to add a correction to jestrfyl’s answer. In the modern KJV version’s, Jesus says: “Where your Treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Treasure in this case doesn’t mean money only; it can refer to that but also anything that has high priority in your life, such as your job, family or something that you may idolize in place of God.

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Joe Gonzalez

posted November 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Yes, Nicole, i agree that believers tend to be more naive than their
‘ nieghbors.’ Some religious people are – Gosh-darned it ! – amenable to all kinds of rip-offs. Perhaps this is precisely what Jesus meant – in part – when he said ‘ The sons of Light are not as clever with their own as the sons of darkness with their kin.’
And of course, it’s good to be innocent, but to be naive to the point of rip-off isn’t. We – the believers – should look into the ‘ arsenal ‘ the Lord implied we had, but obviously were not very good at using. Kng David is a good example of having this wisdom. He knew well other people’s character : he knew whom he had before him. But still, when crying his son Absalom’s fate, he would not suffer Joab to do away with the old man that went along cursing him from the other side of the road. That – David – was truly a King, and truly a man of God, though undoubtedly Jesus was perfection incarnate. The reason David gave for leaving the old geezer alone was a good one, and a highly religious, spiritual one. We, believers, should not suffer with impunity the malice of the wicked. We should realize we’re NOT in Heaven just yet, but here in this’ vale of tears ‘, and tak the necessary precautions. That is not to say that our character tends to be naive, and we may fall many a time. But what is a defect unchcked is also a virtue misapplied, so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. But again, our test here on earth is to see how much we can hone in Virtue, and being blatantly and naively blasse is something we should not fall prey to. Like the athlete, the virtue-practitioner has an encyclopediaof advice on how to overcome pitfalls. He/she must apply him/herself to this first, and then look for a practical, personal solution.

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posted November 27, 2010 at 5:55 am

To the list of rip-offs more likely to entrap the faith-filled, I’d add voting for Republicans. They talk the talk, like these other con artists, but they use their positions to get more power, like the Republicans in congress, rather than using it to benefit others.

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Anan E. Maus

posted November 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm

One can look up charities in the national charities registration or just with the Better Business Bureau to see if they have a bad rating.
If you are unsure of a charity, just pick one of the major national ones…they will mostly likely be reviewed by the Better Business Bureau.
Nice Holiday gift idea – check out the monastery stores of the Trappist or other orders…they often sell very very high quality jams, baked goods and more….

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