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Scammers and fraudsters intentionally target veterans, military members and their families because they know these households may have a regular income and access to government benefits. In addition, military households may need to move frequently, and active-duty service members may be away from their homes for extended periods.
You can see the results in the numbers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2021 found that the median loss for all fraud reports was $500. But military members report a median loss of $600, and active-duty service members report median losses of $881.
Knowing you and your family may be targeted, here are some scams you need to watch out for.
The FTC's data shows that imposter scams are the most common type of scam that military consumers report, making up about 44,000 of the 110,000 fraud complaints filed. However, imposter scam is a broad category that refers to various rackets where the scammer pretends to be someone else.
These can include:
- Charity scams: Charity scams aimed at military members will often pretend to raise money for wounded veterans or other military-related causes. Look up nonprofits on Charity Navigator and CharityWatch to verify their authenticity, and then make a donation through the official website if you want to support the organization.
- Government official scams: The scammer may pretend to be from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, TRICARE, Department of Veterans Affairs or another government organization. They might say they need to confirm or update your identity, or to verify your identity to ensure it wasn't compromised during a recent data breach. But they're really trying to steal your personal information.
- Relative scams: Relative scams may target family members rather than an enlisted person. The scammer calls a grandparent or other older relative, claims they're in trouble and asks for money. There may be an added sense of urgency and a reason for keeping the need secret, such as an embarrassing situation.
- Romance scams: A romance scam is when someone pretends to build a romantic or platonic relationship with you and then asks for money. After earning your trust, they may make up a reason for why they need help, such as a medical emergency, family member in need or to pay for a trip to visit you.
- Tech support scams: You may see an ad on your computer or receive an unsolicited message that says your computer is infected. However, when you respond or reach out to the "tech support" team, you'll actually be talking to scammers and be asked to pay to fix a nonexistent problem.
Scammers may be able to spoof the call or email, making it look like it's coming from a legitimate or well-known organization. Remember that government agencies, financial institutions and other organizations will rarely (if ever) ask for your Social Security number, account number or passwords. It's always safest to look up an organization and initiate the contact yourself before sharing any personal information or sending someone money.
Business and Job Opportunity Scams
Scammers may create job listings for veterans who are looking for a job or are interested in starting a business. The scammers may be after your personal information, which they can collect from your application or onboarding documents. Additionally, they may be after your money and ask you to pay for a guaranteed job placement, required supplies or training for the job.
Many of these jobs are completely fake. However, if the job involves reshipping packages or transferring money, you may be partaking in a larger fraudulent operation. Even if you're getting paid and don't realize what's going on, you could be working as a shipping or money mule, which may be illegal.
Exclusive Offer Scams
While there are many official financial benefits available to veterans, some companies falsely advertise exclusive discounts or deals for military members and veterans. You might not get a special price at all and, even if the company isn't stealing from you, you might not want to support it.
Be particularly mindful of bait-and-switch scams if you're shopping for a vehicle. Dealers may target military families with a made-up vehicle or offer to lure you to the dealership. Then they'll try to sell you on a different vehicle or talk you into a poor financing offer or unnecessary and expensive extras.
Home Loan Scams
You might receive a call or email from someone who either claims to work with the government or VA or with a mortgage servicing company. The scammers may then threaten you with warnings about past-due payments or try to convince you to modify or refinance your mortgage.
Depending on the scenario, you could be pressured into making a mortgage payment by money order or gift card, redirecting your mortgage payments to a new servicer or paying a fee to receive services. But all the money will wind up in the scammer's pocket.
Remember, in general, if you're asked to pay by gift card, cryptocurrency or money order (without an alternative option), that's likely a scam.
Insurance agents may target military members when selling insurance. It's not a scam in the sense that you'll get nothing in return, but they may try to talk you into a policy that's more expensive or extensive than you need. For example, if you want to buy life insurance, look into the relatively low-cost Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance policy.
Scammers may create rental housing ads for apartments or homes that are located near military bases. They could then charge you a fee to apply or approve your rental and ask for an upfront deposit. However, the home doesn't exist.
Upfront Fee Scams
Upfront fee scams can come in a variety of forms. Some scammers will try to get you to pay a fee to get copies of your military records—you can request service records for free online. Or, they may promise to help you maximize your benefits or find you discounts, but only if you pay them first.
Other scammers offer you a guaranteed personal loan, credit card or auto loan approvals. These can be outright scams when you're asked to pay an upfront fee and get nothing in return. Or, they may be legitimate credit accounts, but the high fees and interest rates make them a poor choice. The terms may also be illegal under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Pension Poaching Scams
Some financial advisors may target veterans with a pension poaching scam. They may try to persuade you to apply for a legitimate veteran benefits program, but tell you to hide your assets in a trust or annuity to meet the requirements. The advisor makes money by charging a fee for the advice or by charging fees to manage your assets.
You may be unknowingly breaking the rules and have to repay benefits if you fall for a pension poaching scam. If you're interested in veterans benefits, you can get free advice from an accredited attorney, claims agent or Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) representative.
Protect and Monitor Your Information
Keep up to date on the latest scams and prevention measures to help protect yourself and your family. The AARP's Fraud Watch Network has an Operation Protect Veterans resource center and the FTC has a Military Consumer Protection page that can give you a start on what you need to know.
Experian also regularly publishes guides on how to detect and prevent scams, and what to do if you're a victim of identity theft or fraud. You can also get a free dark web scan from Experian to see if your information has been leaked, and free credit monitoring and alerts, which can notify you if someone uses your identity to open a new credit account.