FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
En español | American Disabled Veterans Foundation. Healing Heroes Network. Veterans Fighting Breast Cancer. Military Families of America.
They sound like just the sorts of organizations that generous Americans would rush to support to repay those who have served the country and now need our help.
“Sound like” is the operative phrase here. These are all sham charities that federal and state watchdogs have sued in recent years for misleading donors, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s a particularly shameful subset of charity fraud: scams that exploit Americans’ gratitude for military members’ service and sacrifice.
Bogus military charities use the same outreach techniques as trusted nonprofits — direct mail, email, phone calls, texts — and often adopt similar names. They throw around words like “warriors,” “heroes” and “disabled” and fill their communications with heartrending appeals like this:
“Statistics tell us that as many as 1/3 of all homeless people in the U.S. are American veterans who served their country faithfully. With your assistance we offer these American veterans the assistance they so desperately need.”
The group behind that pitch, American Veterans Foundation, raised nearly $6.5 million from donors who were told their contributions provided care packages and other aid for deployed troops and homeless veterans. Instead, the organization shoveled 92 percent of the money it raised into telemarketing and administrative costs before the FTC shut it down in 2019.
Sham veterans charities often target older people, according to the FTC. In some cases, they are actually scam PACS, political action committees that pass themselves off to prospective donors as charities supporting veterans and other causes.
These shady operators don’t just steal or misspend your money. They divert millions of dollars that might otherwise flow to the many honorable organizations providing housing, job training, mental health care and other vital services to former military members and their families.
A little research can go a long way in weeding out phony fundraising appeals. Don’t let scammers curb your generosity toward those who serve, but take steps to ensure your donated dollars truly support them.
- Pressure to donate immediately. A legitimate veterans charity will welcome your donation whenever you choose to make it.
- Claims that you will get a prize or win a sweepstakes if you give. That’s illegal, according to the FTC.
- A thank-you for a donation you don’t recall making. Phony fundraisers try to trick you into thinking you’ve already given to the cause, to lower your resistance to donating “again.”
- Do ask for details on a veterans charity’s mission, how many service members and families it helps, and how much it spends on programs as opposed to overhead and fundraising.
- Do get an address, phone number and website for the organization.
- Do search online for the charity’s name and words like “scam” or “complaint.”
- Do check whether it is registered with the appropriate state charity regulator.
- Do look up reports and ratings from charity evaluators and data resources like those listed below under “More Resources.”
- Do get a receipt showing how much you’ve given. Legitimate charities will give you one. Check it against your credit card statement to make sure you were charged only the amount you agreed to donate.
- Don’t make a donation in cash or by wire transfer or gift card. Scammers prefer these payment methods because they are hard to trace. The safest way to donate is by credit card, which offers the greatest protection for consumers in case of fraud.
- Don’t take a charity’s name at face value. Deceptive military charities use words like “disabled,” “healing” and “heroes” in their branding to play on your patriotism and sympathy.
- Don’t mistake a charity appeal that comes in the mail for a bill. Some bogus fundraisers disguise solicitations as invoices, hoping you’ll think you have to pay.
- If you’ve been solicited or victimized by a bogus veterans charity, report it to the FTC and to your state’s charity regulator.
- Nonprofit watchdog groups like Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Wise Giving Alliance provide a bevy of online resources to research groups purporting to raise money for veterans, including ratings, reviews, and tax and financial data.
Updated October 19, 2020
About the Fraud Watch Network
Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.
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