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Making a Memorial Day Gift? Don’t Get Conned

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This Memorial Day, you may be moved to donate money to a charity that helps veterans and active-duty soldiers. There are plenty of good groups that need your help, including the Fisher House Foundation, which operates like a Ronald McDonald House for soldiers, providing housing to wounded veterans and their families as they receive medical care.

There’s also the National Military Family Association, which runs programs including those that help spouses of active duty soldiers go to college, and offer camps for the families of wounded soldiers. Both groups receive an A+ from the American Institute of Philanthropy for running quality programs, and for the amount of money they raise that actually goes to help veterans (as opposed to administration, fundraising, etc.)

Scams to Watch Out For

But donors beware. There are plenty of scammers ready to prey on your patriotism using fake veteran causes. Gregory Warnock, founder of two nonprofit groups, the Military Family Support Foundation and the Oregon War Veterans Association, allegedly stole $690,000 from donors for his personal use and to make political contributions, according to Oregon Attorney General John Kroger.

It was the latest in a slew of cases Kroger has brought against groups with names like No Veterans Left Behind Association, The Veterans Fund and Community Support, all of which pleaded guilty to raising money in the name of veterans but keeping most of the donations for themselves.

[Related article: Three Ways to Fight Military Identity Theft]

“The Department of Justice is committed to cracking down on charities that misuse donations raised to benefit veterans, law enforcement and other worthy causes,” Keith Dubanevich, Kroger’s chief of staff, said in a press release.

Other scams abound. The United States Navy Veterans Association claimed it was founded in 1927 and had 66,000 members across dozens of chapters nationwide. The group raised more than $22 million in 2008, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

But a series of investigative stories by the newspaper revealed that the association was a giant con, run by a man who stole the identity of a wounded soldier named Bobby Thompson. The man, who has not yet been identified, was indicted in Ohio for aggravated theft and money laundering for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from the organization.

“Thompson” added insult to injury by sending donors thank-you notes copied word-for-word from anysoldier.com, a real organization that helps people send care packages to soldiers, the Times found.

“U.S. Navy Veterans Association is an unfortunate example of how easily the public can be duped out of millions of charitable dollars by failing to properly research a charity before deciding to give,” according to the American Institute of Philanthropy’s December 2010 Watchdog Report.

Donating to Legitimate Organizations »

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