Yellow scam alert sign

Virginians are a patriotic group. Like many Americans, they give willingly to charities that help injured and disadvantaged service members and veterans. Unfortunately, racketeers are taking advantage of that generosity. Since 9/11, scam artists posing as spokesmen for support charities to solicit donations from the unwary have become big business. Keeping tabs on these bogus organizations has kept the Federal Trade Commission and state officials on their toes.

Since 2014, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has aggressively pursued swindlers in Virginia. On Wednesday, his office announced that Herring, spearheading a coalition of four state attorneys general, has succeeded in closing down a fraudulent organization operating in the commonwealth that exploited contributors and misused funds that were supposedly benefiting deployed troops. Hearts 2 Heroes, a for-profit company doing business under the name Active Duty Support Services Inc., sold care packages door to door, claiming they would be sent to military members overseas.

In the suit filed last summer, Herring claimed the company violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law by misrepresenting the nature of its business and the care packages purchased. The suit also claimed that company staff members skimmed donations for themselves. Herring’s office says the care packages went either undelivered or were sent to stateside military bases. The state hopes to recover $287,000 in restitution. Most of that would go to Virginia residents who purchased the care packages as well as to scam victims in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Last year, Herring was part of a 16-state suit against Operation Troop Aid Inc. that alleged the charity improperly used funds for purposes other than their solicited intent and used unfair, false, misleading or deceptive solicitation and business practices. And in 2017, Herring joined in a settlement between 24 states and VietNow National Headquarters Inc., an Illinois charity that misrepresented how it spent donations. The settlement ostensibly resulted in the organization being dissolved. We applaud the attorney general’s diligence.

Since 2003, more than 2 million troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands have been killed and many more have suffered lifelong, debilitating injuries. Caring for them and their families is an enormous responsibility — one too big for the Veterans Administration to handle alone. It is admirable that Americans are so generous in supporting those who have borne the battle.

When bogus charities take donations under false pretenses, not only are they stealing from those giving Americans, they are taking money from legitimate veteran support groups that seek to provide real aid. The bums should have the book thrown at them. We join Herring in hoping this settlement sends a strong message to other swindlers who try to rip off honest folks.

— Robin Beres

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