Better Business Bureau warns Minnesotans of ‘pinkwashing’ scams

The Better Business Bureau is warning Minnesotans about a scam known as ‘pinkwashing,’ where people try to profit off of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"Pinkwashing is a term to describe companies or businesses that use that pink ribbon to their advantage, to try to sell something or market something, take someone’s money," said Bao Vang, communications director for the local chapter of the BBB, serving Minnesota and North Dakota. "And then they are not sharing those funds with a legitimate charity or cause."

There is heightened concern this October because many in-person fundraising events have gone virtual. Vang said, while there are many legitimate online fundraisers, there are also websites and social media accounts that may be selling pink items to pocket the proceeds.

"You have to do your research, do your homework," Vang said. "Make sure your charity is who they claim to be."

Breast cancer survivors in the Twin Cities told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are outraged by the scheme.

"It makes me really sick to my stomach," said Felicia Teska of Inver Grove Heights, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 31. Teska said she endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy and nine surgeries and is now cancer-free.

"This whole month is meant for awareness and not for people to use it and abuse," Teska said. "If you’re a survivor, it’s just awful. It’s just completely awful. Why are people using breast cancer as a way to make money? All those donations going to the proper place is what saved my life."

The American Cancer Society hopes people will still donate to the cause this fall, but be vigilant about how they do so.

"Cancer hasn’t stopped and neither can we, despite whatever else is going on right now, people are still getting diagnosed with cancer," said Amy Countryman, community development manager at the American Cancer Society.

She said the annual Making Strides for Breast Cancer Walk in the Twin Cities is now a drive-through event called Strides Ride. It will take place on Oct. 24th at Valleyfair in Shakopee. Click here for more information.

Countryman said, in a year where fundraisers look very different, it is more important than ever to make sure your dollars are ending up in the right place.

"We do worry that vital research will go unfunded this year, due to lack of donations. We need that funding in order for all of those patient services and for cancer to not gain any ground, but for hope to continue to be what we celebrate. It could be just that one researcher that finally gets that funding that makes all the difference in the world and we just can’t afford that to be in jeopardy right now," Countryman said. "So look into the organization you are looking to support."

Vang added, "A quick internet search can help you find out a lot about an organization because if it is a scam, likely others are already talking about it on the web."

The BBB offered these tips for anyone making a ‘pink purchase’ or donating to a breast cancer-related charity:

Shop smart. Some companies donate a portion of the sale of specific items, designated with pink ribbons or packaging. When shopping for "pink ribbon" items, see if the promotion is transparent about which charity it will benefit and how much of the purchase will be donated. Watch out for vague claims of proceeds benefiting unspecified charities.

Check the charity. Charities accredited with BBB Wise Giving Alliance meet the 20 BBB Charity Standards. If you are considering a donation to a charity that is not familiar to you, go to to view its charity report or find trustworthy organizations to donate to. When researching a charity, pay close attention to its name, as some questionable charities may use names similar to those of established organizations.

Participate carefully. Some charities host fundraising events in addition to marketing promotions. If this interests you, gather all the important information before signing up. Is there a participation fee or are you required to sign up a minimum number of sponsors? Always research the charity or group organizing the event before you register.

Take action. If your preferred charity is not holding any events or promotions during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, contact them directly to see how you can volunteer or donate on your own time. Every type of contribution helps!

If you suspect a scam or believe you may have fallen victim to one, you can report by clicking here.