By Jenna Strum (WSPA)
The South Carolina Secretary of State says an organization claiming to help veterans has been doing shady business.
The Secretary of State's office is banning the Veterans Support Organization from asking for donations in South Carolina for 15 years and fining it $5,000.
You may have seen the group asking for donations in front of stores or on the street, wearing military-style uniforms -- even if they were never in the military, although the VSO says it changed that dress code two years ago.
With his 20 years of military service, Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Department of South Carolina William Robinson said the idea of a group exploiting Americans' compassion for veterans is infuriating.
"They think they're doing good for the veterans, helping them out, but on the other hand is, the veterans who really need these funds, they are not getting them," said Robinson.
The Secretary of State said the Veterans Support Organization failed to register dozens of employees as professional solicitors, even though they get paid on commission.
That allows the VSO to make it seem like it's paying a higher percent of its donations to charitable programs than it actually is.
Robinson said people who feel they've been scammed by the VSO will be less likely to donate to legitimate organizations that help vets.
"When they go out and they ask for these supports, they're turned down because they say, 'Hey, I've been scammed once. Are you scamming me?'"
VSO's Director of Operations Justin Wells said in a written statement, "VSO did not believe that it was proper to use donated funds in order to hire counsel to fight the aforementioned claims and believes that it served its donors and work program participants best by agreeing to pay a reduced find and exit South Carolina."
Two other states have hit the Veterans Support Organization with fines. Florida fined the VSO $2,500. Tennessee fined the organization $20,000.
How do you know if a charity is the real deal? The Secretary of State's website allows you to check out which charities are officially registered in South Carolina and which charities have been suspended from the state.