There are dozens, if not hundreds of wonderful military charities dedicated to making the lives of servicemembers, veterans, and their family members or survivors, a little brighter. Many veterans have given more than we as a nation could ever rightfully ask. And it’s great to be able to give back to our veteran community and show them we appreciate the sacrifices they have made. Unfortunately, whenever money is involved the door is open for scammers to try and part you from your hard-earned money.
We don’t need to cover all the scams and fraudulent military charities out there. This has been done by many sites, including this example of a man who took almost $2 million in cash as a “retirement” for his work (among other high valued perks) and this person who bilked unsuspecting donors out of over $100 million over seven years.
Our goal is to show you how you can protect yourself when giving to military or veteran charities, and ensure that your intended recipients receive the bulk of your gift.
How to Verify a Military or Veteran Charity is Real
Anyone can make something look good on paper or on the Internet. All you need is an official-looking logo and a name that elicits trust. But if you are giving someone money, it’s your duty to know where your money is going. Even if a charity claims to give money to military families or veterans, they may put much more than they give into their own pockets. Here are some ways you can verify a military charity is legitimate before you give them any of your hard-earned money.
Are they registered with the state and federal government? All legitimate charities should be registered with the state and the federal government. Use a search engine to look for “your state + charity list“. That link will take you to Illinois, where I live. Just change the state to your state and verify the charity is listed with your state attorney general’s office, or another regulatory office (each state has different requirements).
Charities should also be listed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the government. By law, they must meet certain requirements to be listed as a charity with the IRS.
How much of their money goes to overhead? How much money goes to the mission goal? Legitimate charities aren’t afraid to open their books to the public. They understand that if they are running a true charity, the vast majority of their income will go right out the door to support their cause. There are several third-party websites that monitor charities and give them a score based on how much money they spend on their mission compared to how much goes to things like overhead, fundraising, and employees. Here are a few sites to check before ever sending any money to a charity:
When researching charities on the above sites, be sure to look for a charity rating and see if there is information on how the funds are used.
Beware of unsolicited requests for money. I never give money over the phone. Ever. I always ask the caller for a website where I can research the company or organization before I make any contributions. Any respectable organization will be happy to give you their website, and some will even direct you to locations on the site where you can find information about how they solicit and spend contributions. If an organization doesn’t have a website or tries to avoid giving me the information, I politely decline their solicitation and request to be permanently removed from their calling list.
Avoid the hard sell. Most organizations that do sales over the phone have scripts for everything. They read the pitch and go down their list. If you ask a question, they have a response on their list ready to go. These scripts are tested and they have them down to a science. The only way to win is to be persistent and avoid a hard sell. Don’t ever commit to giving money until you have a chance to review the organization before you give any money.
If you are being solicited in person, ask the solicitor for a brochure or a card so you can further investigate the organization. Again, any good charity will be happy to share information about their organization. They will be just as happy to receive the money tomorrow as they would be to receive it today. Anyone who pushes the hard sale may be trying to hide something.
Never send cash and always request a receipt if you want a tax deduction. Cash is untraceable. It is easily lost or misappropriated (in the wrong hands). Some organizations won’t even accept cash. If you want a tax deduction, you will need to prove that you made the contribution. The easiest way to do this is with a receipt or a credit card transaction.
Never give too much identifying information. Some scams are designed to steal your identity. For example, a person may call you fronting as part of a charitable organization. They may ask you for personal information to verify a donation you gave. never give personal information over the phone, especially info such as your SSN, DOB, or other personal info. It can be used for identity theft.
Report fraudulent charities. If you believe you have given money to a fraudulent charity, or an organization is trying to scam you, you should report it to your state attorney general office or the Federal Trade Commission. You can also report it to any of the websites mentioned above that track charitable organizations.
Make Sure Your Money Goes to a Good Place
Some of these fraudulent organizations have solicitation down to an art. They know the exact words to say to get the best response. But technology is now good enough that you can put the power in your hands. You control your checkbook. So take a moment and review the organization before you write a check. Make sure you understand the organization’s mission, how much of their money goes to the mission, and that you agree with both of these.
As we mentioned earlier, there are dozens of great charitable organizations that support the military and veteran communities. Here is a list of veterans service organizations, along with some organizations we have covered in more depth on our site:
- American Legion
- AMVETS – American Veterans
- Cell Phones for Soldiers – provides Cell Phones for soldiers when traveling on deployments.
- DAV – Disabled American Veterans
- Fisher House Foundation
- SWAN – Service Women’s Action Network
- Vet Tix – provides event tickets to veterans and active servicemembers.
- VFW – Veterans of Foreign Wars
Do you have a favorite military or veteran charity?