In the past week or so I’ve received several calls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters asking if I would like to donate my car–or real estate or even time share–to an outfit called Veterans of America and take a tax deduction. The calls consisted of a tape-recorded message inviting me to either call an 800 number or hit a button on my phone to speak with someone.
Since I never had heard of that organization, I did call or hit the button, several times. But when I asked whoever came on the line for the specific office address or the tax ID number–which would be needed for a valid tax deduction–that person abruptly hung up.
A legitimate nonprofit concerned about its reputation likely would not do that.
As some of you know, I have long experience writing about nonprofits. In my experience, a large number of veterans organizations soliciting over the phone or via direct mail for donations–or organizations purporting to be veterans organizations soliciting over the phone or via direct mail for donations–are dodgy in that little of the money raises goes for good deeds. Indeed, I once came across a veterans organization that spent not a single dime of the money raised for its stated mission.
Still, it’s unclear to me precisely what Veterans of America is, primarily due to a lack of any verifiable paperwork to examine. An organization with that exact name is not registered with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office (although a nonprofit with that name from Florida was registered in Carson City some years ago), nor listed in several online phone directories I consulted.
Now, Veterans of America could be a d/b/a, or trade name, used by another registered nonprofit. But the name doesn’t come up in government online fictitious name databases in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, places where one of those hanger-uppers told me before hanging up that Veterans of America operates. Even Google and Bing searches for “Veterans of America” produced precious little useful information. After all, it’s a rather generic name.
The part of the Las Vegas Review-Journal website with online ads currently sports a small display ad for Veterans of America soliciting the same kind of car/real estate/time share donations. “Highest tax write off possible,” it says, certainly implying a nonprofit organization directly benefiting veterans. The ad contained a Las Vegas phone number different from the one that popped up on my caller ID during those robocalls. When I called this number, I got who I think was one of the same persons I reached after responding to those robocalls who, after I asked a few questions, had hung up on me.
As soon as he recognized my phone number, he did it again.
The giant Guidestar database of IRS Form 990 tax returns by nonprofits does list several different Veterans of America organizations in the Oklahoma/Arkansas area. Using contact information on the returns, I called one and reached an official. He said his Veterans of America was part of a string of 22 facilities in the heartland nowhere near Las Vegas catering to ex-military but didn’t solicit donations.
How do you raise money, I asked.
“Bingo,” he replied. “Just bingo.”
When I told him that individuals using the Veterans of America name were soliciting car donations in Las Vegas and not answering many questions, he laughed. “I’m sure it’s some kind of flim-flam,” he said.