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Supporting veterans? Be careful when donating

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People collecting at store entrances may not be legitimate

By KEVIN KOELLING
Managing Editor

PERRY COUNTY – Local veterans groups are recruiting support in a fight against what one representative called thieves.

They set up at store entrances and claim to be collecting money to help veterans, county Veterans Services Officer Wayne Hubert told the News.

“Everyone wants to help veterans,” he said Thursday. “They’ll tell you they’re vets, but they’re not.”

Anyone can apply to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status. If they meet the criteria, they’re supposed to file a report each year to retain the status, but the federal agency may not follow up for a couple of years. By then the scammers have made considerable amounts of money and can let that exemption expire and request another under a different group name. Those doing the actual soliciting keep the bulk of the money collected and the rest is divided among higher levels of the “companies.”

Several family members running such a scam collected between $140,000 and $230,000 in annual salary, Hubert said.

The Associated Press reported last month that the Florida-based Veterans Support Organization was “fined by Tennessee for making false claims about the benefits it offered, and Connecticut lawmakers called for a federal investigation before the group’s Tennessee branch closed” a month earlier. AP writer Kristin Hall quoted a former Tennessee chapter manager who said that group was raising tens of thousands of dollars a month at its peak, but its only donations were about $400 worth of gift cards given every other month to Veterans Affairs facilities in that state and Kentucky.

Hubert said he and others were going to approach local store owners to rally support against allowing representatives of unknown charities to solicit in this area, including Hawesville. They planned to deliver a letter signed by Hubert and the commanders of American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in that city, Tell City and Cannelton. It asks merchants to “no longer allow outside groups to solicit money in the name of veterans at your location” and explains, “after considerable time researching these groups and checking with other veterans, we feel they are not what they claim to be.”

Hubert talks regularly to other veterans services officers from around the state and said all 92 counties have the same problem. It hurts legitimate charities, he said, because people don’t have as much to give and the imposters make them suspicious about donating.

“I tell people if they want to donate, check with charitynavigator.com,” Hubert said. “They do a good job of checking people out.” He also urged people to donate to local organizations they know are legitimate.

The groups don’t always limit their claims of benevolent missions to support of veterans, he explained. Sometimes they say they’re collecting for other purposes, such as supporting battered wives or at-risk children. Some of the solicitors “look like bums” he said, while others dress very nicely and are very well-trained about what to say and how to avoid confrontation.

“It’s awful to me,” Hubert said. “They’re thieving, stealing, and they’re using our names as veterans to do it.”