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Attorney General Josh Stein Announces Enforcement Actions Against Military Charities and Releases 2018 Military Consumer Guide

Release date: 7/19/2018

(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today announced enforcement actions against two charities, Steps & Stages and Operation Troop Aid, for misusing charitable contributions intended for military servicemembers and veterans. Attorney General Stein today also released an updated military consumer guide intended to help military servicemembers and their families as they make consumer decisions and manage finances during active duty and deployments.

“Members of the armed forces and their families sacrifice a great deal in service to our country,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “People who take advantage of their service, or who divert donations meant to help them, are without a conscience. My office will do everything in our power to hold these individuals and organizations accountable.”

Steps & Stages: Disabled Veterans Resource Agency, Inc., agreed to a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Justice and the North Carolina Secretary of State over allegations that it misappropriated charitable assets intended to provide transitional services to homeless disabled female veterans, failed to be appropriately governed, and refused to provide services. The Steps & Stages settlement was obtained in conjunction with the North Carolina Secretary of State.

Operation Troop Aid (OTA), a Tennessee-based charity participated in an unlawful charity co-venture with nationwide retailer, Harris Originals of New York (Harris Jewelry). OTA and Harris Jewelry had a years’ long unwritten agreement wherein Harris Jewelry would publicly advertise that when consumers purchased one of its teddy bears dressed in military uniforms, it would donate a specific amount of money, depending on the bear’s size, to OTA.  Harris Jewelry sent OTA checks without documentation outlining how the donated amount was calculated and OTA has acknowledged that its operations lacked oversight, including ensuring that Harris was donating the full amount it was advertising to the public. OTA has entered into a settlement agreement following a multistate investigation. Among other actions, OTA has agreed to cease operating and enter into an agreement that includes dissolution and penalties. Joining North Carolina in the OTA agreement were New York, Tennessee, Nevada, Washington, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The actions were announced in conjunction with Operation Donate With Honor, announced today by the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement officials from all 50 states the country. The national operation includes more than 100 actions being taken against charities, fundraisers and individuals that falsely promise people’s donations will help military veterans and servicemembers. As part of the operation, Attorney General Stein has partnered with the FTC and government agencies in all 50 states to release a donor education video that includes tips on how to ensure your charitable donations are going to legitimate charities.

In addition to today’s enforcement actions, Attorney General Stein also released the 2018 Military Consumer Guide. The guide includes information to help servicemembers and their families protect their identity, lease and rent property, and avoid common scams targeting members of the armed forces.

“Military servicemembers and their families experience major life changes as they move through active duty and deployment,” said Attorney General Stein. “I hope servicemembers across North Carolina will use this guide to better understand their rights under the law and make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

“Our active military members, veterans and their families have risen to answer the call, and sacrificed in countless ways to protect the integrity and values of our nation and way of life as Americans and North Carolinians. Any organization or individuals who would target them and fraudulently profit off of taking advantage of them should be held responsible, and I applaud the Attorney General for leading the effort to confront these malicious actors,” said Larry Hall, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Military & Veterans Affairs.

Please access the full military consumer guide here, and visit ncdoj.gov/military to learn more. For more information on donating to charities, visit ncdoj.gov/charity and ftc.gov/charity.NCDOJ

Contact:
Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484

FTC Contact:
Frank Dorman (202) 326-2674

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