Help the Vets reportedly collected more than $11 million from donors in Ohio and other states between 2014 and 2016 but used less than five percent of it on charitable programming. Instead, the vast majority of funds went to its founder and paid fundraisers.
Under an action by DeWine, the Federal Trade Commission, and the attorneys general of California, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon, the organization will no longer be able to solicit donations, it will release its remaining funds to be distributed to other charities, and its founder, Neil G. Paulson Sr., will pay $1.75 million to be used for charitable contributions.
“There are many organizations in Ohio and across the U.S. that do great work to help veterans and service members,” DeWine said. “Unfortunately there are some groups that only pretend to do this kind of work. We want people to know the difference. Sham charities drain away money and resources that could be used by honest, legitimate organizations.”
The action against Help the Vets is part of “Operation Donate with Honor,” an effort by the Federal Trade Commission and officials in every U.S. state to curb giving to fraudulent charities that falsely claim donors’ contributions will help veterans and service members.
Help the Vets, which also operated under names including American Disabled Veterans Foundation and Military Families of America, claimed donations would be used to provide medical care and other services to wounded veterans, but investigators found that these programs largely didn’t exist and that any benefit to veterans was “merely incidental.” Instead, most of the money went to for-profit fundraisers the group hired to collect donations.
To help Ohioans avoid charity scams, DeWine offered the following recommendations:
• Don’t rely on a group’s name alone. Many sham charities have real-sounding names.
• Research charities using the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and other resources.
• Check an organization’s IRS Form 990, which is typically available on Guidestar.org, to find program descriptions, expenses, and other details.
• Be aware that some calls come from for-profit companies that are paid to collect donations. If you ask, these professional solicitors must tell you how much of your donation will go to the charity. They also are required to identify themselves.
Suspected charity fraud should be reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515. The Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section investigates suspected violations of the state’s charitable laws and pursues enforcement actions to protect Ohio donors.