BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
You've seen them before. The glass jar at the checkout counter. The sign atop a stack of stuffed animals and dolls. The poster announcing a benefit for an accident victim. "PLEASE GIVE! PART OF ALL PROCEEDS GO TO... [fill in the blank]." But what portion? And what exactly are "the proceeds"? These are questions shoppers thought about after the fact, after being duped into buying toys that had been falsely touted as benefitting worthy causes.
Monitor Your Giving
A recent news story about an Internet-only retail Web site that marketed a "Caylee doll" and a "Michael Vick dog chew toy" gave us pause. The seller proclaimed on its Web site that proceeds would go to charities. For the doll, proceeds were to go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. For the dog toy, to local animal shelters. The seller steadfastly defended the sales of these two items.
Even though the seller claimed that he had donated $5,000 to that National Center, only $10.00 was confirmed. Hundreds of consumers complained about the offensiveness of the sale items. An attorney for Caylee's family finally called the seller who at last stopped the sale of the doll. The Florida Attorney General's Office put a halt to the sale of the dog toy by filing suit.
Before that, however, thousands of well-meaning consumers like you had purchased the toys, thinking that they were giving generously to a worthy cause. In the end, only the seller benefitted, and the consumers found themselves rewriting the charitable donations tally for their tax returns.
Compensation for Consumers Will Be Minimal
Fortunately, in both of these cases the wrongdoer was identified and stopped from further exploiting the two tragedies. The high profile nature of the two incidents likely gave the attorneys who intervened more clout to get the wrongdoer to cease the sales.
Naming and finding the wrongdoer isn't an easy task, especially if you suspect no deception. Even if those two goals are accomplished, it can still be a long and arduous road to actually collect money back. If you have purchased just one or two items for a nominal price you may not find it worthwhile to sue the seller.
However, you should still be willing to help others avoid this kind of fraud by reporting any suspicious "charitable" sales to the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General's office or local law enforcement officials. If you have spent a significant amount of money, it may be worthwhile to talk with an attorney for advice on possibly suing the seller.