The group behind that pitch, American Veterans Foundation, raised nearly $6.5 million from donors who were told their contributions provided care packages and other aid for deployed troops and homeless veterans. Instead, the organization shoveled 92 percent of the money it raised into telemarketing and administrative costs before the FTC shut it down in 2019.

Sham veterans charities often target older people, according to the FTC. In some cases, they are actually scam PACS, political action committees that pass themselves off to prospective donors as charities supporting veterans and other causes.

These shady operators don’t just steal or misspend your money. They divert millions of dollars that might otherwise flow to the many honorable organizations providing housing, job training, mental health care and other vital services to former military members and their families.

A little research can go a long way in weeding out phony fundraising appeals. Don’t let scammers curb your generosity toward those who serve, but take steps to ensure your donated dollars truly support them.