How Can You Tell if a Veterans Charity Is Legitimate?
If you want to support the people who fought for our country, Help the Vets sounds like just the kind of charity you’d donate to. But as officials discovered, 95 percent of the $20 million donated to the charity actually went to covering expenses and paying the founder’s salary and benefits [*].
Veterans charity scams like this are becoming increasingly common. Unfortunately, few people are aware of them, making them a constant threat to the livelihood of vets.
Veterans and military personnel lost over $266 million to fraud in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]. That’s an increase of over 250% from the previous year. And veterans charity scams made up a large portion of those losses.
So, how can you tell if a veterans charity is legitimate or a scam? And what should you do if you think you’ve been tricked by a fake veterans charity?
What Are Veterans Charity Scams?
Veterans charity scams — or veteran fundraising scams — are fraudulent charities that raise money under the pretense of helping military veterans. But little to none of the funds ever make it into the pockets of veterans.
There are many scams that target veterans directly. But charity scams target military families, active-duty military service members, and supporters who are most likely to donate to veteran-related causes.
Veterans are part of a vulnerable group. Many don’t have the money or resources to easily transition back into civilian life. These scams exploit patriotism to steal donations and information that can be used for identity theft.
To find their victims, scammers use two different approaches: targeted and random.
- Targeted Veterans Charity Scams. These are when fraudsters research and build a list of specific targets to solicit for donations. This is a classic example of phishing. Scammers will browse LinkedIn or social media for former service members or people who have shown support for the military. Then, they’ll start sending unsolicited phishing emails, texts, and telemarketing phone calls to get you to donate to their scam.
- Random Veterans Charity Scams. These are when scammers mimic an existing fundraiser or charity organization to solicit donations. They’ll often use names that sound official or are similar to a legitimate charity in order to build trust. But the money that gets donated disappears. These scams tend to pop up around events like Veterans Day, when the general public is thinking about vets.
Both types of veterans charity scams can be difficult to identify.
So, how can you recognize if the military charity you want to support is actually doing its part?
Don’t Get Scammed! How To Protect Yourself From Veteran Charity Scams
Scammers creating fake charities are almost entirely financially motivated — and they’re getting better at fooling even the most cautious people into sharing their sensitive information or sending them money.
To help protect yourself from charity fraudsters, follow these steps:
- Learn the warning signs of a fake charity. Charity fraudsters will do anything to make their scams look legitimate. Make sure you take the time to research any organization or individual you want to give money to. Search them on the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator.
- Freeze your credit. A credit freeze (or credit lock) stops fraudsters from opening new accounts or taking out loans in your name. Contact each of the major credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. Or, use Aura’s one-click credit lock to instantly lock and unlock your Experian credit file.
- Regularly check your credit report and bank statements. Scammers are almost always after your financial accounts. Check for the warning signs of identity theft — such as strange charges on your bank statement or accounts you don’t recognize. An identity theft protection service like Aura can monitor your credit and statements for you and alert you to any signs of fraud.
- Only donate using payment services that can be easily disputed or refunded. Many online scammers will request donations in forms that can’t be refunded — such as wire transfers, gift cards, payment apps like Cash App, or cryptocurrency. This is a huge red flag that you should avoid this charity.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection monitors all of your most sensitive personal information, online accounts, and finances for signs of fraud. If a scammer tries to access your accounts or finances, Aura can help you take action before it’s too late. Try Aura’s 14-day free trial for immediate protection while you’re most vulnerable.
10 Ways To Identify a Fake Veterans Charity
- Check the charity's credentials online
- Look for bad reviews on Google and Facebook
- Beware of warning signs like hard-sell tactics
- See if their website is secure
- Ask if you were contacted directly by them
- They want you to donate using cash, wire transfers, or gift cards
- Their name is strangely similar to another well-known charity
- You can't find additional information or news articles about them
- They offer prizes or "sweepstakes" in return for donations
- They ask for personal or sensitive information
1. Check the charity’s credentials online
Legitimate charities are tightly regulated. You can check if a charitable organization has the proper credentials on websites such as:
- Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance
- Charity Navigator
- Charity Watch
- IRS Tax Exempt Organization search (to ensure your donation is tax-deductible)
Even your state government’s official website is a good place to check, as charities are typically required to register with the attorney general’s office.
2. Look for bad reviews on Google and Facebook
Fraudulent charities can still sometimes make their way onto official lists. But if others have been scammed by them, you’ll find bad reviews on either Google or sites like Facebook. Search for their name and see what others have said. If you can’t find anything, that could also be a red flag.
You can also do a Google search of the charity’s name plus “fraud,” “scam,” “reviews,” or “complaint” to see what other people have said about them.
3. Beware of warning signs like hard-sell tactics and vague language
Hard-sell tactics are a huge red flag for veterans charity scams. While charities will often use persuasive language to try and get you to donate, scams will aggressively go after your money.
Be aware of the language the solicitor uses. Scammers create a sense of urgency about their offers or even to threaten you if you don’t do what they ask, such as send them donations or give them your personal information.
On the other end of the spectrum, fake charities might also use vague language to hide their true intentions.
Don’t be won over by overly sentimental language. If it’s difficult to understand where your money is actually going to be used, it could be a scam.
4. See if their website is secure
Secure websites are much safer to use when entering your credit card and other sensitive information. While unsecured sites can be hacked or used as a front to collect your information.
What makes a site “secure”?
Most browsers will show a padlock near the URL. Secure sites also begin with https:// instead of http://.
5. Ask if you were contacted directly by someone from the charity
Legitimate charities won’t contact you out of the blue. But with fake charities, scammers directly target veterans and military families claiming to be old friends who now run a military charity.
If someone contacts you about donating to a military charity, verify who they are. If they text you, ask for the name of their charity and then check them on the sites above. Afterward, contact the charity through their official phone number to ensure you’re not being phished.
If you think a message from a veterans charity might be a phishing attack, look for these signs:
- Excessive typos and strange formatting.
- Unknown email address or a personal email provider (for example, Gmail instead of an official .org email address).
- Obscure links or attachments.
- Asking for personal or sensitive information.
Phone solicitations from charities also have to follow specific guidelines, such as only calling between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and disclosing their name and purpose. Charity calls can’t use a robocall or prerecorded message, either. If they do, it’s a scam.
6. They want you to donate using cash, wire transfers, or gift cards
If you decide to donate to a charity, use a credit card or check.
Scammers will often try to get you to use alternative payment methods that are harder to reverse once you realize it’s a fraud. This includes wire transfers, cash, gift cards, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Keep a record of your donations and check your statements to make sure you haven’t been charged more than you donated and aren’t being billed monthly.
A credit-monitoring service can alert you of suspicious payments and potential financial fraud.
7. Their name is strangely similar to a well-known charity
Fraudulent charities will use names that are close to legitimate ones in the hope that you’ll mistake them for the established organization. If the charity name is close enough, but you’re unsure, do your research.
You can always contact the legitimate charity to confirm that they’re affiliated with them.
8. You can’t find additional information or news articles about them
Charities rely on press to find new donors. Do a Google News search for the charity’s name. If nothing comes up, they could be a scam. This is also a good way to see if there are any negative reviews or news stories about the charity.
9. They offer prizes or “sweepstakes” in return for donations
Some scams will try to persuade you to donate by offering prizes in return. If a charity guarantees some sort of reward for donating to them, it’s a scam.
10. They ask for personal or sensitive information
Scammers aren’t just after your donations. Charity scams are another way that identity thieves can get access to sensitive information like your full name, address, birthday, and Social Security number (SSN).
Prevent identity theft by being extra-careful about who you give this information to. And never share passwords, account information, or PINs with anyone — especially online.
What About Fundraising Campaigns on Social Media?
You’ve more than likely seen GoFundMe pages and other crowdfunding campaigns claiming to help veterans. But are they safe to use?
The short answer is: sometimes.
Veterans charity scammers are well aware of the power of social media. If you want to donate to a cause on social media, follow these best practices:
- Find out who is behind the crowdfunding campaign. Any money raised goes to the campaign organizer, who then uses it (hopefully) for what they promised. But it’s up to them to keep that promise. Research the person behind the GoFundMe or other campaigns to make sure they’re legit.
- Make sure the donation is tax deductible. Check the organization’s name using the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search tool.
- Read the rules for each crowdfunding platform. Each platform has its own set of rules on what’s allowed, what fees are charged, and how and when it will send money to the organizer. Look for platforms with policies around fraudulent campaigns and that have checks in place to make sure organizers aren’t scamming you online.
- Contact the person who shared the campaign online. If a friend shared the campaign, contact them offline and ask why they did and if it’s legit. Scammers can take over social media accounts and use them to spread fraudulent charity campaigns.
- Do a reverse image search of photos used on the campaign page. Search the images in Google to see if they’re associated with other charities or nonprofits. Scams will steal images from legitimate charities to get you to trust them.
Were You Scammed by a Fake Veterans Charity?
Even if you do your own research, there’s always a chance that you might accidentally donate to a fake veterans charity.
As soon as you realize you’ve been scammed, you should:
- Report the fraud to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and to the attorney general’s office of the state in which the campaign organizer lives.
- Contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and alert them to the scam so they can warn other veterans and military families.
- If the scam took place on social media or a crowdfunding site like GoFundMe, report the fraud to them so they can take it down or freeze their funds.
- If you think you’ve given someone sensitive information like your SSN or bank details, look for the warning signs of identity theft.
- Protect your online identity by changing all your online passwords and enabling two-factor authentication (2FA). You might want to set up a password manager to keep track of your login information.
- Monitor your credit report, bank statements, and credit cards for suspicious activity. If you see anything, contact your bank or your credit card issuer’s fraud department.
- If you’ve lost money or think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you should also file a police report with your local law enforcement. Then, follow the steps to help you recover after your identity is stolen.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura monitors your bank, credit, and personal accounts for any signs of fraud and alerts you up to 4X faster than the competition.
What Other Scams Do Veterans Need to Be Aware Of?
Unfortunately, fake charities aren’t the only scams targeting veterans and military supporters.
Here are few of the most common veterans scams to be aware of:
Military romance scams
Veterans are often the targets of romance scams on online dating sites. Military romance scams and other imposter scams cost veterans and their families more than $40 million in 2020 alone [*].
Beware of anyone who seems to pull on your sense of responsibility — especially when online dating. Fraudsters will quickly proclaim their love and then start asking for personal information, gifts, or even cash.
Veterans benefits assistance loan scams
Scammers often target disabled veterans who need help right away by offering them immediate jobs or loans. The only catch is that they require an upfront deposit. But once you pay, they disappear, along with your legitimate loan.
Veteran home rental scams
These are very similar to veterans benefit scams. Scammers post home rentals or used vehicles for sale on sites like Facebook Marketplace claiming to offer military discounts. But once again, they require a deposit that will disappear the second it clears.
💡 Related: The 6 Latest Rental Scams To Watch Our For →
Military record payment or update scams
Scammers have set up fake websites that charge veterans for their military records. In general, these records are free, and the scammer pockets the fee you pay.
In another version of this scam, the scammer contacts you claiming to be from a government agency that needs to update your records. They’ll collect your personal information and then use it for identity theft.
Veterans scams are constantly evolving. To stay up to date, check out the U.S Postal Service’s Operation Protect Veterans at uspis.gov/veterans.
The Bottom Line: Beware of Veterans Charity Scams
American veterans deserve our respect. And if you can help them out financially, that’s even better. But any situation where money and emotions collide is a prime target for scammers.
Follow these fraud prevention tips to protect yourself from donating to fraudulent charities or giving scammers access to your sensitive information. And for peace of mind, consider signing up for Aura’s identity theft protection and credit monitoring.