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As NYS helps shut down "deceptive charity," BBB offers pointers on solicitation calls

VietNow Macon County Chapter

New York State and 23 other states are shutting down am Illinois-based organization that, prosecutors say, collected donations through a deceptive telemarketing campaign but provided only a fraction of the proceeds to legitimate causes. In Buffalo, the Better Business Bureau is offering reminders of how to spot suspicious solicitations.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office announced that an Illinois-based organization known as VietNow is being dissolved. Schneiderman, along with peers from 23 other states in what is called Operation Bottomfeeder, settled with VietNow after it came to light that it used deceptive telemarketing solicitations to collect donations under the premise those dollars would fund medical services, treatment and other support for veterans.

Instead, investigators say, less than five percent of donations ever made it to any legitimate programs.

"With so many New York veterans in real need, it’s galling that a so-called charity would pretend to help them in an effort to line their own pockets,” said Schneiderman in a prepared written statement. "Operation Bottomfeeder should serve as a warning to the scammers who seek to exploit veterans, cancer patients, and other causes to make a quick buck: we will stop you."

In Buffalo, Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Melanie McGovern said telemarketing solicitors will use trusted words like "cancer," "children" and "veterans" to gain the attention and sympathy of those being called. She says legitimate organizations and those calling on their behalf are willing to provide both information... and patience.

"Any charity that's soliciting over the phone, if you say 'let me check you out first,' they'll say 'absolutely, no problem, here's our number, give us a call back,'" McGovern said. "Any time you're feeling that pressure to donate, if they're really pushing you hard, if there's a false sense of urgency, those are always reg flags that the charity might not be legitimate."

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance provides people an opportunity to log in, enter the name of a charity and learn more about that organization.  McGovern explained that charities must undergo a 20-point check before they earn accreditation with the Better Business Bureau.

"If it's a newer charity or we don't know anything about it, we can start a report on that charity so that donors will know it exists and what it's all about," she said.

VietNow will slowly be put out of business. A receiver has been appointed to administer and dissolve the organization. Also as part of the settlement, VietNow's controlling officers and directors are barred from participating in any future professional fundraising. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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