ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – As Memorial Day approaches, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Western Virginia warns of bogus charities that often defraud those who serve or who have served their nation.
In 2020, active duty members lost more than $ 190,000 to scammers across the United States, according to reports generated by BBB Scam Tracker. Veterans across the country have been hit even harder, with more than $ 270,000 lost due to fraudulent business practices. In addition, 49% of fraud victims were over 55 years old.
Consumers should also be aware of deceptive military charities which often adopt names and outreach practices similar to trusted nonprofits, such as emails, direct mail, phone calls, and text messages. These military organizations use emotionally appealing words to fill in their fundraising arguments such as “warriors”, “heroes” and “disabled”.
In 2019, the FTC shutdown American Veterans Foundation, which has raised nearly $ 6.5 million from donors. The foundation said the donations provided care packages and other aid to deployed troops and homeless veterans. Instead, the foundation used 92% of the money it raised for telemarketing and administrative costs.
“When you donate to a charity claiming to represent military personnel, always check Give.org to see that the organization meets BBB charity standards, especially around Memorial Day. Lawyers who do not meet BBB standards often call and say they are helping veterans, military personnel, or their families, but little money donated will go towards that end.
Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB serving West Virginia
BBB cautions against the following scams that typically target service members:
- Expensive military loans – Ads for loans that promise collateral, instant approval or no credit check will often come with hidden fees and extremely high interest rates. Remember, legitimate lenders will never guarantee a loan until you apply, and loans that require an upfront fee are likely a scam.
- Veterans Benefits Buyback Plans – This buy-back plan will offer a cash payment in exchange for future benefits or pension payments from a disabled veteran. The cash amount is only about 30-40% of what the veteran is entitled to receive. These buyout plans can be structured in a number of different ways, so do your research thoroughly before signing anything.
- False rental property – Stolen photos of legitimate rental properties are used in advertisements that promise military discounts and other incentives. Service members will have to pay a wire transfer fee for security payments or a key to the property – in the end, they will not receive anything.
- Deceptive car sales – Websites displaying classified ads will offer bogus discounts for military personnel or pretend to be from soldiers who need to sell their vehicle quickly since deployment. There will be an initial charge by bank transfer or the car will have problems after purchase.
- Expensive life insurance policies – The military are often the target of pressurized sales arguments that offer unnecessary and expensive life insurance policies. Lawyers can make false claims about the benefits these policies offer.
In order to avoid these scams, BBB gives these tips:
- Do your research – Get as much information as possible about a business or charity before you pay or donate. A great start to your research would be to take a look at a company’s BBB business profile and see if BBB has a report on the charity.
- Never transfer money to someone you don’t know – Money sent by wire transfer is virtually impossible to track. Pay or donate by credit card whenever possible, as you can dispute the charge more easily.
- Protect your computer – Do not click on links contained in unsolicited e-mails. Do not enter personal information on unknown websites. Make sure you have updated antivirus software installed and use a firewall at all times.
- Put an Active-Duty alert on your credit reports once deployed – This will minimize the risk of identity theft as creditors and businesses cannot issue or extend credit until the identity has been verified.
Before making a charitable donation:
- Get the correct name of the charity – With so many charities out there, mistaken identity is a common problem.
- Avoid heartbreaking calls – It is not a wise choice to make a decision under high pressure. You always have the option of requesting information about an organization and making a donation.
- Check the website for the basics – A charity’s mission, program and finances should be easily accessible on its website. Otherwise, search for a report at Give.org.
- Find out if the charity meets BBB charity standards – Look for a report on the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website.
- Check with state government officials. Most states require charities to register to solicit with their attorney general’s office or the Secretary of State.
BBB says members of the military often face unique challenges when they return to civilian life and re-enter the workforce. The organization recommends starting with these trustworthy organizations to avoid scams:
- BBB Information for military and veteran consumers – BBB Information for military and veteran consumers provide free consumer education and financial literacy resources for military families and veterans.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – VA.gov, the official website of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, is a hub for documents on all aspects that may impact the transition to civilian life. Information on education benefits, pensions and life insurance are all available on the official website of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Veterans Employment Services Office (VESO) – VESO provides resources on career opportunities within the Department of Veterans Affairs, facilitating the transition from active service to civilian life.
- United States military assistance – Like the VA, USA Military Assistance guides a wide variety of areas. For those on active duty, military tax advice and free credit monitoring are also available at usa.gov/Military-Assistance.
- Veterans Health Administration – An extension of the VA, Veterans Health Administration is a health care system specifically for veterans. The administration is also providing resources to veterans during the COVID-19 crisis.