What do the National Veterans Service Fund, Vietnow National Headquarters, Help the Vets, Veterans of America and American Disabled Veterans Foundation have in common?
The answer is they have all been sued for lying to donors! These are just a few of the hundreds of sham organizations playing on the sympathies of grateful Americans trying to help those who have defended our country.
Operation Donate With Honor is a nationwide education campaign launched by the FTC and its state partners to help consumers donate wisely and avoid veteran-related charity scams. Last month, as a part of this effort, Operation Donate With Honor announced more than 100 new law enforcement actions against bogus and fraudulent charities.
Perhaps most striking is the wide array of scams focusing on veterans. Some bogus operators claimed funds went for homeless or disabled vets and then simply kept the cash, while others spent most of the money on for-profit fundraisers and their own personal salaries. Other scammers claimed they needed funds to send phone cards or “care packages” to deployed troops, only to spend pennies on the project.
For example, a lawsuit filed against Help the Vets by the FTC and attorneys general in Ohio, California, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon was settled last month. According to the lawsuit, the so-called charity, which took in $20 million from 2014 to 2017, will be required to pay its remaining assets, only $72,122.36, to one or more court-approved legitimate veterans’ charities. The group’s founder will also pay $1.75 million to one or more charities.
In another action taken by the FTC, Travis Deloy Peterson was charged with making illegal robocalls for groups with names sounding like legitimate veterans’ charities, such as Vehicles for Veterans, Save Our Soldiers, Veterans of America and Act of Valor. According to the FTC, none of the names Peterson used in the robocalls is a real charity.
Here is a typical pitch: “If you have been thinking about donating your car, real estate or timeshare to charity, please consider donating to Veterans of America. Donations are itemized tax deductible, and all real estate donations are deductible for full market value. We also accept most timeshares, so call us today at (phone number). Thank you.”
A federal judge in Utah has issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Peterson from placing unlawful robocalls while the case is proceeding.
Operation Donate With Honor doesn’t wish to discourage people from donating to legitimate veterans’ charities. Most charities are trustworthy. However, the organization urges everyone to take a few minutes to do their homework before donating. Here’s how:
• Ask the fundraising organization to give you basic information about the charity. Be suspicious if they can’t give you this information.
• Investigate the charity’s legitimacy by going to Charitynavigator.org, Give.org, GuideStar.org or CharityWatch.org. You can also check www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov or www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits.
• Search online using the charity’s name plus words such as “rating,” “scam,” “review” or “complaint.”
• Don’t be rushed into giving a donation. No legitimate charity or fundraising effort is so urgent that a delay in your donation will cause someone’s suffering. Especially avoid the temptation to give immediately to a telemarketer. Instead, use the call as a prompt to check out the organization. If it is legitimate, you can always give later.
Americans are generous, recognizing issues our veterans often face and do want to help. But before giving, research to make sure your donation goes to a charity that does the work.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.