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 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 deceiving 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.

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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. Three men indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas in November 2021 on charges of operating two fraudulent PACs allegedly raised some $3.5 million by misleading donors during the 2016 election cycle, according to prosecutors.

Other political scams ramp up as an 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). Cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 reported on an email that made the rounds during the 2020 campaign asking recipients to "confirm" personal details to fix supposed errors on voter registration forms.

These phishing ploys aim to steal money or personal information, such as your Social Security number or date of birth, for use in identity theft. Exercise your right to hit delete or 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.

Scam Tracking Map

No matter where you live, fraud is never far away. Report a scam or search for existing scams near you.

    

 

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do go to a candidate's official campaign website to learn about the candidate or make a contribution.
  • 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 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’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.  
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