Skip to content
 

FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Political Scams

En español | If you’re a person with strong political beliefs, you might jump at the chance to give a few dollars to support a candidate who shares your views or an organization that advocates on an issue you care about. Scammers are eager to take advantage of your civic engagement by tricking you into contributing to a bogus political action committee, also known as a scam PAC

Legitimate political action committees are federally registered groups formed to raise and spend money to elect or defeat candidates. Scam PACs exist primarily to raise money for themselves. They may claim to support a particular politician or cause, but the vast majority of donor dollars go to cover fundraising costs and enrich the organizers, who collect big salaries or run affiliated companies that charge the PACs inflated fees for services.

These sham PACs mount aggressive campaigns by phone, mail and social media to lure potential donors, often targeting older Americans. They might name-drop a prominent politician or high-profile media figure (who may not even be running for office), or press ideological hot buttons. In one case, a fundraiser even claimed some of the money would pay for attorneys to ensure the integrity of elections. (He pleaded guilty in 2019 to a federal fraud charge.)

Some PAC scams are more like charity scams, soliciting money to supposedly support law enforcement officers, veterans or cancer research. Whatever the pitch, the con can be lucrative. One operator of bogus PACs defrauded tens of thousands of donors of more than $1 million before he was caught. Another admitted to fraudulently raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for multiple 2016 presidential candidates, much of which he diverted to personal and travel expenses, including hotel minibars and a deep-tissue massage. Both got prison time.

Other political scams ramp up as election season heats up. You might get a call from a purported pollster, who promises a gift card or other reward in exchange for your opinions — they just need your credit card number to cover shipping or taxes. Or, the caller will offer to help you register to vote or even cast your ballot by phone (things no state allows). It’s just a ploy to get personal information such as your Social Security number or date of birth for use in identity theft. Exercise your right to hang up.

Warning Signs

  • A PAC has a name that sounds more like that of a charity. PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are supposed to focus on political activity.
  • The PAC’s website does not list the names of the people running it or provide contact information.
  • A caller claiming to be a pollster or elections official asks you for personal or financial data.

Do's

  • Do check out a PAC before you donate. You can look up individual groups and get detailed information on their fundraising, spending and leadership at the websites of the FEC and the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Do contribute to candidates you support through their official campaign websites, or via legitimate conduits such as ActBlue and WinRed (which process payments for Democratic and Republican campaigns, respectively).
  • Do create a “refusal script” with potential responses to high-pressure fundraising requests. For example: “Let me review the organization and get back to you,” or, “I’ve already determined my donations for the year.”

Don'ts

  • Don’t make donations or provide personal or financial information to organizations that contact you out of the blue.
  • Don’t give in to pressure to contribute by a particular method. Scammers may push you to send a check, for example, ostensibly because it means processing fees won’t be taken out of the donation but really because it makes it harder to dispute the charge.
  • Don’t give to a PAC that does not ask about your citizenship status and employment. Real PACs do so because they are legally barred from taking donations from federal contractors and foreign nationals.
  • Don’t provide private information to political canvassers. They should not ask for personal information other than whether you are registered to vote and who you plan to vote for.  

AARP Fraud Watch Network

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

More Resources

Published January 23, 2020

More From the Fraud Resource Center

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.