FRAUDULENT NON-PROFIT ALERT!
PSA: As members of the military community, service members, our families, and supporters alike are prime targets for scammers and fake charities looking to make a profit off of our patriotism and others’ sympathy. Because I have had many friends recently deceived by fraudulent Go Fund Me’s and fake charities, I’d like to share tips with our military family on how to identify a suspicious non-profit and what you can do about it. I am including a link to a fraudulent, unregistered charity operated solely by Bobbie Lei Moulder Herron Sales that has been making the rounds since November 2016. As I post tips, I will reference why the Special Forces Bravo charity website is suspicious.
So please, before donating, research the organization who will receive your hard-earned money.
1. Research the charity.
Ask the company questions- Make sure the company has a legitimate physical address, phone number, and email addresses with domains that match the website’s. If you can, visit the physical address and talk to those that work there or search the address and make sure it’s not another business. Call the phone number listed on the website and request written information that gives the full name, address, and phone numbers of the organization as well as a list of the board members. Legitimate charities will gladly send information and will never insist that you donate immediately or through online transfer only. Ask the company about its product and how it does business. Ask for a business statement that includes what the company does, how long it has been in business, all its locations, its owners and/or registered agent, and a description of its organizational structure. Ask for a list of references, including companies from which the company buys materials, or beneficiaries to whom the company has donated its products or services. Again, always ask for the charity’s tax-exempt letter indicating its IRS status. You cannot claim a tax-deductible donation if the charity does not have one. Finally, it never hurts to Google the name of the executive director’s name and the names of its board members. (RED FLAGS: Notice the SFB website lacks specific information such as certifications with dates and schools, there is no physical address for the organization, phone number, or fax number, there is no list of board members or staff, and the CEO doesn’t even give her last name. The link to the Whats Up Newport article is used to verify her credibility but the information she gives makes it clear she is ignorant to the American Disability Act regulations.)
2. Inspect the charity’s website.
Sadly, anyone can create a website overnight and “start” a non-profit with a WordPress blog site and a PayPal account. So how do you determine which charities are legitimate? Locate the website and look for the following: Does it look professional? Are there misspelled words, broken links, or pages that have not been updated? Stock photos? Are the names of board members and staff members listed? Registered non-profits require a minimum of three-board members and usually have many more, so if the website only lists the President or Executive Director, that is most likely indicative of a one-person operation. Also, a legitimate non-profit website domain ends in “.org” or “.net,” NOT “.com.” You may also check the registration data for the website to see if it was created recently or will expire soon. (RED FLAGS: SFB is a WordPress website that was registered in November of 2016 with only a gmail address given as a form of contact. Words are frequently misspelled, the grammar is laughable. The website ends in “.com” signifying a company, not a non-profit. There is one blog post which consists of only a picture of a knitted towel. Again, there are no board members or staff names given. There are frequent requests for donations to a PayPal account-the easiest way to raise money second to a Go Fund Me.)
3. Confirm the charity is registered with the state and is federally tax-exempt (a 501c#).
First step in establishing a non-profit is registering with the state. This can be confirmed by searching for the organization’s name or the names of its board members on the secretary of state’s website or by calling. Searches using even parts of the charity name should bring up the charity. The second major step in establishing a non-profit is filing for a tax ID number (EIN) from the IRS (which takes 24 hours if done online). Next, the charity must apply for its 501(c) tax exemption, which takes months. Again, this is easily confirmed by searching the IRS’s website for the non-profit’s name (or partial name). You can even search if the organization has submitted an application and is awaiting final determination of its tax exempt status. If a board says it is tax exempt or a federal non-profit, ask if they can forward you a copy of the 501(c) tax exemption form. Also, the IRS requires that copies of the charity’s financials including tax documents must be made available to the public; this is usually done by posting the documents on its website. (RED FLAGS: SFB and its owner is not registered in any state affiliated with the owner or any version of its name. SFB is not registered with the IRS as a 501c, does not have an application processing, or an EIN. There is not a single financial document posted on the website, despite its claims it is a federal non-profit.)
4. Verify with other agencies.
Finally, check out the charity with your state consumer protection office or even the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at http://www.give.org. Other charity watchdogs include Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar. For more information, visit http://www.stopfraud.gov/service-members.html.
5. How To Report Charity Fraud.
It is a federal felony for anyone to engage in mail fraud, wire fraud, or credit-card fraud. Charity-related fraud should be reported to the following authorities:
• Local law enforcement agency
• Local postmaster if fraudulent solicitations or invoices arrive by mail
• State Attorney General’s office: http://www.naag.org
• State charity office: http://www.nasconet.org
• Federal Trade Commission, online complaint form: http://www.ftc.gov
• Local Better Business Bureau, online complaint form: http://www.bbb.org
• BBB Wise Giving Alliance, online complaint form: http://www.give.org
• The Internet Crime Complaint Center, online complaint form: http://www.ic3.gov
• The National Fraud Information Center, online complaint form: http://www.fraud.org