SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a history of strong support for the Armed Forces and veterans, but some scammers are taking advantage of that goodwill in the name of greed, officials warn.
The Utah Department of Commerce and state Department of Veterans and Military Affairs have joined a campaign with the Federal Trade Commission called “Operation Donate with Honor” to remind consumers who support military veterans through charitable giving to verify before donating.
The effort involves law enforcement and charity regulators from every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico in announcing a sweeping new donor education campaign, Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Commerce Department, said Thursday.
“Veterans gave their lives to protect our American freedoms. Now it is our turn to honor them by making sure our Utah donations go to reputable charities and organizations who will truly benefit their lives,” she said. “Take time to find out who is asking for your donation and how they will spend your dollars toward veterans."
She noted the state Division of Consumer Protection has the information to verify that donations are going to a registered charitable organization.
Each year, thousands of Americans support the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces through contributions to charities that promise to deliver assistance and services to veterans and active duty military members, said Daniel O'Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. While most of the organizations fulfill those pledges, some attract donations through deceptive means and fail to deliver the promised services, he added.
He said those fake organizations harm not only well-meaning donors in the process but the many legitimate charities engaged in "important and vital work" on behalf of veterans and service members as well.
Operation Donate with Honor was developed by the commission 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, O'Bannon said. The initiative sets enforcement actions with an education campaign to help consumers recognize charitable solicitation fraud and identify legitimate charities, he said.
Veterans fundraising fraud schemes solicit nationwide targeting potential donors online, through telemarketing, direct mail, door-to-door contacts and at retail stores, he explained. They falsely promise to help homeless and disabled veterans, provide veterans with employment counseling, mental health counseling or other assistance, and to send care packages to deployed service members, he noted.
The national education campaign is intended to help potential donors learn how to spot fraudulent and deceptive solicitations to ensure their contributions actually benefit veterans and service members, he said.
“Many people want to honor that service and make donations to foundations, organizations, and groups focused on military members, veterans and their families," said Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. "Though there are many charitable organizations that perform amazing work and positively impact veterans, there are some that use and exploit your generosity and their service and sacrifice for their own financial gain. We ask that before you donate to these groups that you perform due diligence to ensure the validity of your charity of choice."
Consumer tips for wise charitable giving
1. Don’t rely on a sympathetic sounding name to make a donation.
2. Ask for the charity’s name, website and physical location.
3. Ask how much of any donation will go to the charitable program you want to support.
4. Check with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection to see if a charity is registered
5. Search the charity’s name online with the word “scam” or “complaint” to see what other people say about it.
6. Check out the charity’s ratings at the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator.
7. Never pay with cash, a gift card or by wiring money.
8. Consider paying by credit card, which is the safest option for security and tax purposes.
9. To file a complaint, go visit the Division of Consumer Protection's website.
Federal Trade Commission resources
Donors and business owners can find information at FTC.gov/Charity.
Click here for information on donating through an online giving portal.
Click here for information on giving to organizations that help military service members and their families.
Click here for giving to charities that help veterans charities.
Click here for information on online charitable giving portals.
Click here for tips for retailers: How to review charity requests.