OLYMPIA – As consumer protection agencies around the country announced a crackdown on scams claiming to help veterans, Washington filed a pair of lawsuits against companies it says are helping themselves to donors’ money rather than military members they claim to serve.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Fallen Hero Bracelets, a Spanaway, Washington, based company, and several companies connected with the Healing Heroes Network, of Florida, for violating state laws against deceptive charitable solicitations.
Fallen Hero sells bracelets engraved with the names of soldiers killed in action, as well as other items, and leads customers to believe the purchases benefit a list of 40 charities that help veterans, according to the lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
But the company hasn’t provided any funds to those organizations, the lawsuit contends. The company also has sued customers who complain of slow delivery or harassed them for returning items and demanding refunds.
Although Fallen Hero has a failing rating from the Better Business Bureau, the company website claims an A-plus rating from the “Business Bureau of America,” an entity the lawsuit says does not exist. The Better Business Bureau gives the company an F rating, and its website lists 29 customer complaints and a mixture of negative and positive reviews.
A separate suit targets Healing Heroes Network, which sometimes operates as Injured American Veterans Foundation, American Injured Veterans Foundation or Welcome Home Heroes. Between 2008 and last year, it raised money through telemarketing, websites and direct mail. One of its promotions was a “sweepstakes” mailing that suggested the recipient had won more than $10,500, urging them to fill out a form and “please enclose a generous gift to help America’s wounded veterans.”
“In fact, very few have won any prize at all, most of those have won only $100 and no one has won the Grand Prize of approximately $10,500 since approximately 2010,” the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court said.
Healing Heroes spent less than 1 percent of donations it received on direct aid to veterans, the lawsuit claims. The rest of the money went to the owners of the company, their relatives and various vendors.
The lawsuits are part of a nationwide effort announced Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission labeled “Operation Donate With Honor.” Law enforcement and officials that regulate charities across the country announced legal action against a wide range of charities and foundations that they say don’t deliver on promises to help military personnel, veterans or first responders.
The FTC and the National Association of State Charity Officials also released a video with tips on how to research charities.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose office is responsible for registering charities in Washington, said that while it’s crucial to support the efforts of charities that help veterans, donors should be wary.
“Don’t rely on a sympathetic-sounding name to make a donation,” Wyman said in a news release announcing the national effort.
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