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Run away from these scam "color runs"

A series of so-called color runs scheduled from coast to coast are being branded as a scam by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and authorities in several states. And consumers are being urged to be cautious about other similar events.

Warnings involve both fake races and others with track records of canceling the events and refusing to refund entry fees to those who registered. The promotions are based on the popularity of a genre of "fun runs" in which participants are encouraged to wear white clothes and then get sprinkled along the course with a variety of powdered dyes.

The biggest red flags involve the Color 5 Mile races. The race website, which lists more than 100 events scheduled in more than 40 states and Washington, D.C., appears legitimate and helps fuel the scam, officials said.

The operation collects race entry fees, typically $45 per person (sometimes offering an "early bird" discount), but doesn't actually conduct the race, according to the BBB and law enforcement.

Officials with Color 5 Mile did not respond to numerous attempts to comment on the issues that have been raised.

Police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week warned residents of that community the Color 5 Mile event was a scam and urged anyone who was ripped off to come forward. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city urged residents to not sign up for the event, warning that no steps were taken to legitimize the race, and it would not be held.

In Bangor, Maine, police also warned, in comical fashion on the department Facebook page, that the Color 5 Mile race isn't on the up and up.

"I can only tell you that there are no permits in place for something called The Color 5 Miler. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch," the officer posting to Facebook wrote. "That would indicate to you, the American consumer, that this might not be an actual event but only meant to take your money and then when you show up you will meet with others who did not follow the Bangor P.D. Facebook page. Lonely, very lonely."

To compound that, the BBB urged caution regarding two other race operations, Color in Motion and Run or Dye. The issues, they said: The organizers charge high rates, cite questionable ties to charities, have a track record of canceling or rescheduling races, and invoke a no-refund clause and hang onto entry fees.

Run or Dye earned an "F" rating from the BBB after generating 216 consumer complaints in the past year, mostly over the inability to get refunds following a cancellation or a rescheduling of a race. Rescheduled races were sometimes far away from the originally scheduled event. Color in Motion has a "D" rating from the BBB but has only generated a handful of complaints.

A spokesperson for Run or Dye did not reply to a request for comment.

However, Ken Richardson, CEO of Color in Motion, said his organization should not be lumped in with the others. They have run hundreds of successful events, he said, and had only two cancellations.

While Color in Motion races also have a no-refund policy, Richardson noted that they issued refunds to those who signed up for a New York event canceled because the venue had been double-booked.

While both of those operations have actually conducted races, it doesn't appear as though the Color 5 Mile has been run.

Paula Fleming, vice president of the BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont, said the BBB has received complaints in its offices around the country from runners in various races who paid entry fees only to have the events canceled without getting refunds.

Because legitimate organizations also run these events, although in many cases they are for-profit, the BBB recommends consumers interested in participating take these steps before signing up, in addition to researching the organizer:

  • Contact the venue to make sure the event is scheduled to be held there.
  • Read the fine print, especially about refunds.
  • Pay with a credit card so that you can dispute charges if necessary.
  • If the race says it has a charitable component, check with the charity to make sure it's legitimate and that it has a relationship with the event.
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