(Boise) – Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today Idaho’s participation in Operation Donate with Honor, a federal and multistate crackdown on fraudulent organizations that claim to benefit veterans and service members. The enforcement and education sweep includes the Federal Trade Commission, law enforcement officials and charity regulators. Participants include all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico. So far, the project includes more than 100 actions against charities, fundraisers and individuals.
“My office is pleased to join with so many other charity regulators in combatting charity fraud,” Wasden said. “Idaho will not tolerate anyone trying to take advantage of our American heroes or defrauding those wanting to support them.”
Actions Include Settlement with Eastern Idaho Nonprofit
As part of the enforcement sweep, Wasden announced his office’s settlement with Veterans Relief Association, Inc., and owner Wayne Longmore. The settlement resolves allegations that the Idaho Falls-based nonprofit engaged in deceptive charitable solicitations and misrepresented itself as a registered Idaho telephone solicitor.
The Office of the Attorney General first learned of Veterans Relief Association in 2013 and warned Longmore that his charitable activities violated Idaho law. In December 2017, after receiving a complaint about Veterans Relief Association, the Attorney General opened a formal investigation. The investigation revealed that Longmore falsely represented that Veterans Relief Association raised funds to “benefit local veterans,” that its “donations [were] 100% tax deductible” and that its “Attorney General ID Number [was] T-00173.”
The settlement prohibits Veterans Relief Association from misrepresenting the tax deductibility status of donations made to the organization and how Veterans Relief Association will use donations. Veterans Relief Association also must maintain an accurate written record of all contributions it receives and provide a copy of the record to the Attorney General upon request.
If Veterans Relief Association calls consumers to offer goods or services for sale, the organization must first register with the Attorney General. In the past, Veterans Relief Association sold discount trash bags, Christmas wreaths, calendars and flag kits through telephone solicitations. However, Veterans Relief Association was not registered with the Office of the Attorney General to do so. As part of the settlement, Veterans Relief Association paid the state $500 to cover a portion of its investigative costs.
Sweep Reveals Solicitors’ Fraudulent Practices
The law enforcement actions announced as part of Operation Donate with Honor showcase the many different ways consumers are asked to donate. Charities and fundraisers sought donations online and via telemarketing, direct mail, door-to-door contacts and at retail stores. The common theme was the false promise to help veterans, including false promises to help homeless and disabled veterans, to provide veterans with employment counseling, mental health counseling or other assistance and to send care packages to deployed service members. Some actions charged veterans charities with using deceptive prize promotion solicitations. Others targeted non-charities that falsely claimed that donations would be tax deductible. Some cases focused on veterans charities engaged in flagrant self-dealing to benefit individuals running the charity, and some alleged that fundraisers made misrepresentations on behalf of veterans charities or stole money solicited for a veterans charity.
Every year, grateful citizens repay the sacrifices made by those who serve in the armed forces with contributions to charities that promise to help veterans and service members. Most of these charities live up to their fundraising promises, but a few attract donations by misrepresenting the help and support delivered. In the process, they harm not only well-meaning donors, but also the many legitimate charities engaged in important and vital work on behalf of veterans and service members.
How You Can Help
Wasden encourages potential donors to learn how to spot deceptive solicitations and to make sure their contributions actually benefit veterans and service members.
“When deciding whether to donate, don’t rely on a sympathetic sounding name to make a donation,” Wasden says. “A little homework will help ensure your donation goes to a legitimate organization that’s doing good work.”
- Ask for the charity’s name, website, and physical location;
- Ask how much of any donation will go to the charitable program;
- Search the charity’s name online with the word “scam” or “complaint”;
- Check out the charity’s ratings at the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator;
- Never pay with cash, a gift card or by wiring money; and
- Consider paying by credit card, which is the safest option for security and tax purposes.
Donors may file complaints regarding deceptive charitable solicitations with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. A complaint form is available on the Attorney General’s website or by calling 208-334-2424. Donors and business owners can also find information to help them donate wisely and make their donations count at FTC.gov/Charity.