Veterans Day is set aside to remember and honor those who served their countries, but too many groups and outright scam artists take advantage of the holiday and prey on the patriotic nature of veterans and Americans to make money.

More than a year ago, News10 investigative reporter Thom Jensen started looking into groups claiming to be non-profits that support veterans and their families. His stepfather, a World War II and Korean War veteran, Lt. Col. Harold Gibson, spurred Jensen's interest in the issue.

Gibson, who trained B-25 pilots out of Mather Field in the early 1940s, received 220 letters from groups with patriotic names from 2011 to 2012. Some sent multiple requests. A total of 1,045 of those letters were sent to Gibson's post office box.

Jensen compared the names of those groups to IRS records and found 79 of the 220 groups were not even registered with the IRS.

The questionable validity about those gorups trying to profit on patriotism didn't really surprise some veterans at the Veterans Day parade near the State Capitol on Monday.

"It's so wrong, so wrong," said U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Steve Milanovich. "There's so much given by these veterans."

Milanovich's wife Lori said it's confusing for people who want to give to organizations who really help vets.

"They really do play on your heartstrings," she said. "It's too bad, because you don't really know who to donate to because of those situations."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is one of those organizations that truly supports service-related services. In 2011, the VFW in the U.S. raised $167,563,283 with more than 98 percent of the funds going to help veterans and their families.

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance monitors charities. The BBB says over the past two years, 64 percent of veterans and military-affiliated charities contacted by the Wise-GivingAlliance provided information and materials needed to complete an evaluation in relation to the BBB's charity standards. That's up from just 50 percent in 2007.

H. Art Taylor, President and CEO of the Wise Giving Alliance said, "We are encouraged that veterans and military-affiliated charities are being more open about their governance, finances and solicitation activities," adding, "America's donors are generally very supportive of these organizations, but too often they give without sound information."

Knowing Where To Donate

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips on giving to veterans and military-affiliated organizations:

· Mistaken Identity: Watch out for name confusions. Many veterans' charities include virtually the same words in different order or slightly different form.

· Clear Program Description: Look for a clear description of the organization's programs in its appeals and on its website. If the charity says it is helping veterans, does it explain how (financial assistance, shelter, counseling) and where it is doing so?

· Telemarketing Cautions: Telemarketing can be a costly method of fundraising unless carefully managed. If called, do not hesitate to ask for written information on the charity's programs and finances before making a donation decision.

· On-the-Spot Donation Decisions: Be wary of excessive pressure in fundraising. Don't be pressured to make an immediate on-the-spot donation. Charities should welcome your gift whenever you want to send it.

· Donating Used Clothing and Other Goods: Find out how the charity benefits from the collection and resale of used clothing and other in-kind gifts. Sometimes the charity receives only a small portion of the resale price of the item or may have a contractual arrangement to get a flat fee for every household pick-up, no matter what the contents.

· Check with Outside Sources Before Giving: In addition to charity monitoring resources such as give.org, check with your state government's charity registration agency, usually a division of the attorney general's office.

You can also research all charities at Charity Watch.

by Thom Jensen, TJensen@news10.net

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