Public urged to be wary of veterans charity scammers

Gov. Jack Markell signs into law in August a bill establishing a penalty for attempting to benefit from falsely claiming to have served in the military. (Submitted photo)

Gov. Jack Markell signs into law in August a bill establishing a penalty for attempting to benefit from falsely claiming to have served in the military. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — They are a familiar sight, especially around this time of year: Men and women standing in front of stores or walking up and down the side of the road asking for donations.

Sometimes they’re seeking money to assist the poor. Sometimes it’s to help animals. Sometimes it’s for veterans.

But when giving to purported charities, people should be mindful — and that goes double for individuals claiming to be representing veterans’ organizations.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year making it a crime to falsely claim to have served in the military and attempt to profit from it. The bill, which was signed into law in August, created a $1,000 fine for stolen valor — the act of trying to gain from lying about military service.

“I think veterans deserve all the respect we can possibly give them. This law will serve to help protect the legacy they worked so hard to create,” main bill sponsor Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, said in a statement.

Americans are a generous people, with the United States ranking second in the 2016 World Giving Index, and while many people seeking donations are truthful, not everyone is.

“It’s a judgment call but when you see somebody in the mall or on the street … I would just suggest that people be cautious because we know there are a lot of panhandlers out there, probably the majority of whom never served, because a veteran would not dress up that way and demean him- or herself looking for a handout,” said Dave Skocik, president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition.

He suggests people continue giving to veterans’ groups but be aware “that just because somebody’s got an old uniform on, they’re not necessarily a veteran.”

A quick internet search can provide details on what charities are most reliable and what percentage of donations goes to recipients, as opposed to internal expenses.

Mr. Skocik also recommends people focus on helping others in or near their own community. In Delaware, many groups work to help others. The state’s  Commission of Veterans Affairs, for instance, aims to assist former members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

While the prevalence of stolen valor is hard to come by, it is not a particularly difficult crime to attempt and can be hard to disprove.

Such acts, Mr. Skocik said, “demean everybody who has served and paid the price for their service.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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