Giving to Organizations That Help Military Servicemembers and Their Families

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When you donate to help active duty military and their families, you want your donation to go to a charity that really helps them. Doing a little bit of research and asking questions will help you do that.

Many legitimate charities support servicemembers and their families, but some will spend nearly all of your donation on fees and administration. Other organizations are outright scams. Just because it has an official-sounding name and official-looking website, shows people in military uniform, or uses the logo of a military branch doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate charity. But how can you tell? Follow these tips before you donate:

Do your research

  • Search the charity’s name online with words like “complaint” and “scam.”
  • Check out reports and ratings through organizations like BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and GuideStar.
  • See if the charity is registered with your state charity regulator. Most states require charities to register before soliciting. You can find your state regulator at nasconet.org.
  • Use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if your donation is tax-deductible.

Ask questions

  • What’s the charity’s website, address, and mission?
  • How much of my donation will go directly to programs that help military personnel and their families, rather than to fundraising?
  • How many families and service members does the charity help, and in what ways?
  • If supporting military families in your own community is important to you, ask how the charity spends money in your area.

Be careful how you pay

  • If someone asks you to send them cash, wire money, donate by gift card, or leave money under your front door mat for pick up, don’t do it. That’s how scammers often ask you to pay. It’s safer to pay by credit card or check.
  • If you’re donating online, check that the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” in the web address. That means your information is transmitted securely.
  • Legitimate charities will give you a receipt that shows the amount of your donation. Keep that record and check your credit card statements to make sure you’re only charged for the donation you wanted to make.

Watch out for scammers’ tricks

  • They spoof caller ID to make their fundraising calls look like they’re from your local area code, a Washington, D.C. area code, or from an organization you know.
  • They pressure you into donating immediately before you have time to do any research. A legitimate charity will welcome your donation at any time.
  • They claim that you’ll win a sweepstakes or get a prize if you donate, which is against the law.
  • They thank you for a donation you don’t remember making. Scammers do that to trick you into thinking you actually made a pledge, and guilt you into sending them money.

What about donation requests through social media and crowdfunding sites?

Especially after a tragedy or military-related event, fundraisers and causes show up on crowdfunding sites and social media. Not all are legitimate. Keep in mind that crowdfunding sites often have little control over who uses them and how donations are spent. Research any charity before you give. Also, if tax deductions are important to you, remember that donations to individuals are not tax deductible.

The safest way to give on social media or through crowdfunding is to donate to people you know who contact you about a specific project. Don’t assume solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate — even posts that are shared or liked by your friends. Do your own research. Call your friends or contact them offline to ask them about the post they shared.

Help stop servicemember charity scams

Report servicemember charity scams to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint and to your state charity regulator. (Find the contact information for you state regulator at nasconet.org.) Give as much information as you can in your report, including the name of the charity, the name of the fundraiser who contacted you, their phone number, website, address, and any other details they gave about the charity.

Tagged with: charity, fraud