Here’s how to avoid charity scams that prey on the military
(Photo: US Marines, Keith Hayes)

When there is a tragedy–and sometimes even when there isn’t–the military community can be an easy target for scammers and unsavory types who want to use the situation for their personal gain. How do you know what’s real and what’s not? We’ve put together a few solid tips to ensure that your generosity goes to the right people and places that need it.

Donate to reputable organizations

You know the usual suspects. Organizations like the Semper Fi Fund, Fisher House, the USO, and branch relief societies are places that make a tangible impact in the lives of military families across the globe. That’s not to say there aren’t responsible organizations that you haven’t heard of– there are plenty of them. But be careful. Make sure that they are a designated non-profit and check them out on watchdog websites like Charity Navigator.

Donate locally

If you want to make an impact, go for the local, reputable organizations that help to support the military community. Spouse clubs, scholarship funds, and base thrift shops are all places where your money and items are needed and will be used well.

Ignore shady sites

Tragedy can be the perfect breeding ground for opportunists who want to make a quick buck off of your emotions and generosity. In the wake of the USS Fitzgerald’s collision, many reputable groups from the military community cautioned against donating to personal donation sites like GoFundMe. It’s very difficult to make sure that the person operating the donation site is who they say they are–and there’s no way of knowing if your money is making it to the intended recipient.

Get away from the computer

Donating money online is the easiest way to give to a cause. (And it’s definitely very necessary.) If you’re worried about making an online donation for any reason, connect to the organization in real life. Get out there and help to serve sandwiches, take food to a pantry, or help sort through clothes. Your manual labor is also needed in organizations and you’ll come away knowing that what you did was vital and mattered.

Don’t fall for emotional pleas

If someone contacts you online asking for help, be careful. Many scammers take on the persona of bogus American service members in order to fleece unsuspecting folks. They will often try to entrap people through emotional sob stories. Use your experiences and knowledge of the military in order to spot a faker. You know that the military will never make a service member pay their way home from deployment. Or that a deployment will not last five years. Or that they are PCSing and cannot until they raise enough money to do so.

Trust your gut

If something seems weird, too good to be true, or doesn’t add up, back away slowly. It’s better to be hyper-vigilant than to get taken.

By J.G. Noll