FTC, states launch Operation Donate with Honor campaign
Would you donate to a charity called Veterans Relief Network? Its appeal says your donation will help get homeless military veterans “off the streets” and provide them “a meal and a bed.” Would you respond to a robocall that asks you to donate your car to Veterans of America?
Unfortunately, donations to Veterans Relief Network provided no support to any Iowa veterans. And, allegedly, Veterans of America wasn’t a charity at all — it was just a front used by an individual who sold donated cars and boats and kept the money for himself.
Today, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joins the Federal Trade Commission and officials from every state in announcing Operation Donate with Honor, a nationwide law enforcement and education initiative to stop veterans-related charity fraud. The group also announced more than 100 actions against charities, fundraisers and individuals.
“Most charities live up to their fundraising promises, but a few attract donations by using carefully crafted mailings intended to mislead donors, particularly older Iowans,” Miller said. “As a result, they harm not only the donors, but also the many legitimate charities engaged in important and vital work on behalf of veterans and service members.”
Attorney General Miller’s long-standing commitment to this fight includes these previously announced actions:
Veterans Relief Network: In March 2018, Miller’s office barred this Indiana company from soliciting in Iowa, after it used sweepstakes mailings with deceptive features to entice recipients to send donations. Iowans gave more than 3,000 donations totaling more than $23,000 since 2015, but Veterans Relief Network provided no financial support of any kind to any Iowa veteran.
Healing Heroes Network: Miller also barred this company from Iowa in March 2018 after misleading mailings. After Iowa began to investigate the operation last December, it filed papers with Florida authorities dissolving the corporation.
Advocate 4 the Aging LLC: The consumer protection division sued this Nashua-based company in 2018, accusing it of charging fees for veterans’ benefits assistance without being federally accredited and of violating Iowa’s Door-to-Door Sales Act. As a result of this lawsuit, Miller proposed Senate File 2200, which passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The bill prohibits anyone from receiving compensation for advising or assisting someone with veterans’ benefits or referring a person to an accredited veteran service representative. It also requires organizers of events or presentations on veterans benefits to disclose that the event is not affiliated with U.S. or Iowa departments of veterans affairs.
Vietnow: In 2017, Iowa joined 23 other states in shutting down this Illinois nonprofit that pledged to help veterans overcome joblessness and post-traumatic stress disorder, and claimed to provide “medical facilities and treatment.” The investigation found that VietNow raised nearly $2 million annually nationwide using professional telemarketers that exaggerated or misrepresented VietNow’s charitable activities or otherwise deceived donors.
The law enforcement actions announced today by the FTC and states showcase the many different ways that consumers are approached to donate. Charities and fundraisers sought donations online and via telemarketing, direct mail, door-to-door contacts, and at retail stores. The common theme was the false promise to help veterans, including false promises to help homeless and disabled veterans, to provide veterans with employment counseling, mental health counseling or other assistance, and to send care packages to deployed service members. Some actions charged veterans charities with using deceptive prize promotion solicitations. Others targeted non-charities that falsely claimed that donations would be tax deductible. Some cases focused on veterans charities engaged in flagrant self-dealing to benefit individuals running the charity, and some alleged that fundraisers made misrepresentations on behalf of veterans charities or stole money solicited for a veterans charity.
Operation Donate with Honor was developed by the FTC and the National Association of State Charity Officials, the association of state offices charged with oversight of charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in the United States. The initiative pairs enforcement actions with an education campaign, in English and Spanish, to help consumers recognize charitable solicitation fraud and identify legitimate charities.
This includes a new video that highlights tips on how to research charities on giving wisely to veterans organizations.
The national education campaign is intended to help potential donors, regardless of where or how they choose to donate, learn how to spot fraudulent and deceptive solicitations and make sure their contributions actually benefit veterans and service members.
Attorney General Miller encourages potential donors, regardless of where or how they choose to donate, to learn how to spot fraudulent and deceptive solicitations to ensure their contributions actually benefit veterans and service members.
“Don’t rely on a sympathetic sounding name to make a donation,” Miller said.
When donating to charity, among other things, Attorney General Miller advises:
- Ask for the charity’s name, website, and physical location;
- Ask how much of any donation will go to the charitable program you want to support;
- Check whether the non-profit organization is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State;
- Search the charity’s name online with the word “scam” or “complaint.” See what other people say about it;
- Check out the charity’s ratings at the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, or Charity Navigator;
- Never pay with cash, a gift card, or by wiring money; and
- Consider paying by credit card, which is the safest option for security and tax purposes.
Before giving to a charity, read the Iowa Attorney General Office’s tips on charitable giving. Donors and business owners can also find information to help them donate wisely and make their donations count at FTC.gov/Charity.
To report a scam, contact the Consumer Protection Division:
- Web: www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area)