By Sheron Patrick
“Giving” is a popular word this time of year. We’re at the start of a season when many of us look to those whose circumstances may not be quite as merry or bright and offer a helping hand. Disabled veterans, active duty military and their families are among the most common and deserving recipients of that help, particularly here in Alaska. Sadly, they can also serve as an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of our giving spirit.
The horrifying truth is veterans, active duty/reserve and their families are also among some of the likeliest consumers taken advantage of by fraudsters and scammers. Think about it, you move to your new duty station and if you were a young Marine like myself once upon a time you don’t have your friends, parents, or Aunt Sally to advise you, “go here to buy a car...talk to so and so to get a couch...this guy is great at repairs to your apartment.”
There are four states where the number of veterans as a share of the adult population exceeds 10%: Alaska, Montana, Virginia, and Wyoming. Except for Montana, each of those states is home to one of America’s largest military cities. According to Housing Assistance Council 68,145 veterans live in Alaska, and 21,895 active duty and reserves still serving. Total veterans and active duty/reserve military living in the state is 90,040. And that’s not counting their families. With a 2018 state population sitting at 737,438 it’s obvious the military presence in Alaska is significant.
Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific cautions consumers that some charities claiming to benefit military members may not deliver on their promise. Beginning with Veterans Day and extending through the holidays, an increased number of fraudulent charities will call, email and advertise directly to residents as way of gathering donations. But the funds they collect won’t ultimately make it to those veterans in need.
Getting duped is easy, too. Scammers use names either similar or identical to real charities as a way of making their phony operation seem official. Even worse, they’ll often share emotionally appealing stories of disabled veterans as a tactic for stealing payment information from caring consumers.
Fortunately, seeing through the fake sob stories is simpler than you think.
BBBNW+P recommends these tips:
Don’t fall prey to social media click-bait. Do not click from social media websites to the charity. Scammers use a heart-wrenching post, and the click-through will be to a phony website, which looks completely legit.
Do your research. Before handing over a donation, find out exactly where the funds are going and who they benefit. The best charities have structured programs in place for allocating their donations, and they’re happy to discuss how they work. If a charity contacting you is low on information, you may want to donate somewhere else.
Be direct. The most effective way for your funds to benefit disabled veterans and others in need is to send your donations directly to the charity of your choice. When you have the option, bypass any telemarketers, third parties and other forms of solicitation.
Don’t feel pressured to pay. Legitimate charities are grateful to receive your donation whenever you’re comfortable giving it. Scammers typically want payment as quickly as you can send it. Make sure not to give in to tactics that force you to make a quick decision.
Visit Give.org. BBB accredits charities only if they meet our 20 Standards of Accountability. Give.org offers reports on how well charities meet those standards, evaluating areas including governance and oversight, financial management and effectiveness.
Sheron Patrick is the Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest + Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in in Anchorage and writes articles and alerts on tips to help keep Alaskan consumers safe.