BBB: Does the “Soldier Relief Fund” Help Soldiers? We Don’t Know

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By Better Business Bureau

 The 4th of July is almost here and the people of Kentucky and Southern Indiana are in a patriotic frame of mind.  Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people may take advantage of your patriotic desire to support America’s soldiers.

A local business owner contacted the BBB yesterday after being contacted by someone representing “Soldier Relief Fund.”  The business owner stated that he “received a call from a Sgt. Jack Gilley, asking me to sponsor a soldier for an AT&T call card for $100.00.” He said, “I couldn’t turn down someone calling two days before the 4th and asking for a donation for soldiers so they can call home.”

But after checking with the BBB, this business owner changed his mind and turned down the request.  Based on what the BBB knows, BBB president Charlie Mattingly says, “The business owner made a wise decision.“

Mattingly says, “Anyone should think twice before giving to a charity that won’t disclose financial information to the Better Business Bureau. No matter what cause you seek to support, the BBB has reports on reputable, accountable and trustworthy charities that support that cause.  If you give to a charity that won’t disclose the kind of information requested by the BBB, you are ‘buying a pig in a poke’ and you may never know whether your money helped anyone besides the person doing the soliciting.”

BBB Charity Review is conducted without cost to the charity and evaluates the charity against twenty standards for charity accountability developed by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.  Charities are asked to participate in BBB Charity Review if the BBB receives public inquiries about the charity, or charities may participate voluntarily as a way to show potential donors that the charity is going the extra mile to be accountable and transparent in handling donor funds.

In the case of the Soldier Relief Fund, Mattingly says, “There is even more reason than non-disclosure for potential donors to be skeptical.”

Mattingly says BBB research indicates that the founder and executive director of Soldier Relief Fund was charged in 2011 with fraud in connection with a charity scam in Indiana.  According to an article in The News and Tribune of Jeffersonville, IN dated January 5, 2011, John Matthew Ross “was arrested on charges of falsely soliciting donations for the Indiana State Police children’s camps.”  According to police involved with the investigation, “Ross’ employees were posing as state police officers to get donations.”

The BBB has been unable to verify that Soldier Relief Fund is an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) charity, but this may be because the charity’s application remains in pending status.  However, IRS 501(c)(3) status, even if it is granted, should not answer all donor questions about a charity.  It can be entirely legal for charities to solicit contributions even if a small percentage of funds raised go to the cause that donors wish to support.

The Better Business Bureau has received 159 online inquiries about Soldier Relief Fund since January 1, 2012.  Soldier Relief Fund has not responded to two or more requests to provide financial statements, audit reports, tax filings, and solicitation materials that would enable BBB staff to evaluate the charity in connection with BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.