VietNow raised money in Iowa; charity claimed donations would help local vets, but had no local programs
DES MOINES – An Illinois nonprofit corporation that raised money in Iowa and elsewhere through deceptive claims that it would use donations to fund local veterans programs will shut down permanently, through an agreement with 24 states, including Iowa.
VietNow, of Rockford, which also used the name VeteransNow, pledged to help veterans overcome joblessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and claimed to provide “medical facilities and treatment.”
In a March phone call placed on behalf of VeteransNow and intended for an Iowan, which was recorded by Iowa’s undercover Consumer Protection Division line, a pre-recorded third-party solicitor claimed, “The goals of the association are to help veterans and of course our local Iowa vets with post-traumatic stress and Gulf War illness.”
“VietNow asked kind and generous Iowans to donate to help veterans who need it, and those behind this organization helped themselves to most of the funds,” Miller said. “It’s offensive when con artists take advantage of peoples’ gratitude toward veterans to line their own pockets, and those who really need the funds don’t get it.”
In March, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette alleged thousands of deceptive solicitation violations against VietNow for misrepresenting its charitable programs to donors. Attorneys general in other states then began their own investigations of the non-profit and its principals, which resulted in the agreement to dissolve the organization.
The settlement resolves the allegations and investigations by appointing a receiver to dissolve VietNow. The settlement also obtains injunctive relief against VietNow’s directors and officers and requires their cooperation in investigations of VietNow’s professional fundraisers.
Fundraiser: 13 Percent of Iowans’ Donations to VietNow
Two professional fundraisers registered in Iowa to raise funds on behalf of VietNow.
Corporations for Character (CFC) LC, of Murray, Utah, reported that in 2015 it raised $14,912 in Iowa, and forwarded $2,087, or 13 percent, to VietNow.
In 2015 Las-Vegas-based Courtesy Call Inc. registered to fundraise in Iowa for VietNow, but has not since reported raising money for the organization.
Illinois Attorney General Alleged “Serial Fraud” Fundraising in Illinois
In June, another VietNow professional fundraiser, Safety Publications Inc., of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, was permanently banned from charitable fundraising in Illinois through a court-approved agreement. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleged the fundraising company’s owners are “serial con artists” and the agreement would “put an end to their serial fraud in Illinois.”
Upon dissolution, VietNow’s remaining funds will be paid to established national veterans charities Fisher House Foundation and Operation Homefront.
Since March 2015, VietNow raised money using deceptive telemarketing solicitation scripts. The scripts, which were used by professional fundraiser Corporations of Character, told potential donors that VietNow gave a minimum of 12 percent after expenses back to veterans in the donors’ state; other scripts stated that donations helped local veterans in the donors’ state.
In response to Michigan’s investigation, VietNow admitted that it had not funded any programs that assisted veterans in Michigan; nor did VietNow have local programs in most other states. Other VietNow scripts claimed that VietNow provided “medical facilities and treatment” to veterans, but again, VietNow’s response identified no such programs.
In its most recent financial statement, VietNow reported raising nearly $2 million nationwide. But most of this cash was paid to fundraisers, with less than 5 percent of funds raised going to its charitable programs.
- Don’t be fooled by a sympathetic name. Some operations use names that promise more than they deliver. Many causes clearly deserve generous public support, including veterans, law enforcement and fire fighters, but some marginal operations claim connections with such groups yet provide them with very little support. Contact your local sheriff or police or fire department or veterans’ organization to check out claims that a donation “will be used locally.” If a charity’s name sounds similar, but not identical, to a charity you’re familiar with, contact the charity you know to check it out.
- Ask questions. Be wary of claims that the caller is a charity worker or volunteer, that most of your donation goes to the cause, or that your donation will be used locally. Some charities hire professional fundraisers that collect fundraising fees from donations. Ask the caller if he or she is a volunteer or a professional fundraiser. If it’s a professional fundraiser, ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. If you’re dealing with the charity directly, ask how much of your donation goes toward administrative expenses. If you don’t get straight answers, don’t give.
- Ask phone solicitors to send written information. Check out the charity before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they insist on a pledge before they’ll send you information. Check them out at the national Better Business Bureau “Wise Giving Alliance” site – www.give.org or check with www.charitynavigator.org.
- Say no to high-pressure solicitors. They’re likely not working on behalf of a legitimate charity or professional fundraiser. If they offer to send someone to pick up your donation, ask you to use an overnight service or request you to wire your donation, tell them no.
- Be wary of solicitors thanking you for past contributions you don’t recall.
- Don't give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone to a solicitor you don't know. Resist high-pressure pitches to give now. Trust your instinct if something doesn’t seem right.
- Bottom line: Give wisely! Giving to a known charity you’re confident about is often the best option.
Iowans can report non-profit abuse through the Consumer Protection Division at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov or by calling 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 877-446-4790 (in-state but outside the Des Moines metro area).