As reported in the Federal Trade Commission’s 2018 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, military personnel reported more than 59,000 fraud complaints (as well as an additional 28,000 identity theft complaints). Military service members can be a potential target for fraudsters just like anyone else, but certain scams are more likely to focus on the military community. Learn more about these 11 scams that military personnel, veterans, and their loved ones should watch out for.
Why Is the Military Community Targeted for Scams?
Some aspects of a service member’s job may make them more vulnerable to scams. They likely have a guaranteed and steady income, which could be enticing to scammers. They may move often or be deployed, which may make it more difficult to notice red flags on bills or credit card statements. Finally, some service members may be young or living on their own for the first time, and scammers may prey on that financial inexperience.
Scams that Target Active Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families
Scammers may approach military personnel from many different angles, sometimes using a twist on existing forms of identity theft, impostor scams, and other deceptions.
- Veterans Services Imposter Scam – An imposter scam is one in which the scammer pretends to be someone they are not in order to earn the trust of their victims and convince them to send money. In one imposter scam that may target the military, fraudsters contact veterans claiming to be from veterans services in an attempt to collect financial and personal information. For example, callers may claim that there is a new type of veterans benefit available. Scammers may use caller ID spoofing so the call appears to come from a legitimate source, and they may even leave a fraudulent call-back number. The scammer may ask the victim for personal information, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and bank account numbers, which could be used to steal money, or could be sold to other bad actors for use in other schemes.
- Benefits Scams – Several possible benefits scams target veterans. In one benefits scheme, a less-than-trustworthy adviser may try to convince a veteran to boost their pensions by investing in financial products that make it appear like they have fewer assets. What the adviser may fail to mention is that changes could disqualify the veteran from other government support or have other negative consequences. In what is sometimes called a benefits buyout scam, fraudsters offer an upfront payment of cash in exchange for a veteran’s future disability or pension payments, but often these buyouts are a fraction of the value of the benefit. In another scam, veterans may be told that they qualify for a secret government program or benefit that offers thousands of dollars, but requires that the veteran pay an upfront fee or is required to give personal information to the scammer.
- Military Records Scam – Unscrupulous businesses may attempt to charge veterans fees for copies of their military service and discharge records. Some websites reportedly charge from $90 to $150 to obtain military records through an expedited service. However, in most states, Veterans Affairs agencies can often provide the requested paperwork within a day, and all states have benefits counselors where veterans can receive free assistance.
- Deployed Service Member Scam – In one particularly cruel scam targeting the loved ones of active military personnel, fraudsters may contact the spouse or parents of a deployed service member claiming to be a person of authority and saying that the military member has been injured or is somehow is stranded without funds. Using the fear that families of military personnel already feel about their loved one’s safety, the scammer attempts to convince family members to reveal personal information or even hand over money.
- Military Loan Scams – Military loan scams may offer loans to members of the military or veterans claiming “no credit checks” or “all ranks approved.” These loan scams often come with hidden fees and high interest rates.
- Military Charity Scams – Some fake charities use names similar to well-known veterans’ charities to try and trick those who wish to donate money to a good cause. Scammers may even create a fake website that closely resembles a credible charity. Read: Donate Wisely–7 Tips to Avoid Charity Scams in 2019.
- Job Scams – Veterans looking for work may be especially vulnerable to hiring scams. Former military members, especially transitioning veterans, are advised to watch out for fake websites that mimic trusted organizations, suspicious email addresses, and unusual interview platforms such as an online chat.
- Identity Theft – Some scammers may attempt to pose as the Veterans Administration to request that veterans update credit card, bank information, or other financial records with the goal of stealing their personal information for identity theft. Other scammers may claim that they are government contractors trying to recruit veterans and use the ruse to ask for a copy of the job applicant’s passport, again potentially leading to identity theft.
- IRS Impersonation Scam – IRS impersonators may contact veterans pretending to be from the IRS and claiming that the veteran owes back taxes. These impersonators may threaten arrest or use other scare tactics to trick victims out of their money. In another version of the scam, fraudsters may claim that they are issuing tax refunds and ask for personal information that could later be used to commit identity theft. Read: Is Someone Calling You Claiming to Work for the IRS? You May Want to Hang Up.
- Scams Exploiting a Military Connection – Sadly, there are scammers who attempt to claim or exploit a connection to the military in order for a potential victim to lower their guard. For example, scammers, sometimes posing as soon-to-be-deployed service members, may offer special deals for veterans on cars, electronics, or other products. They may ask for payment upfront and then disappear with both the money and the promised products.
- Phishing Scams – Phishing scams can come in many forms (prize offers, threats for late bills, an account update, and others), but the ultimate goal is to get the victim to click on a link and provide personal or financial information, which could later be used to commit identity theft.
More Information to Help Military Personnel and Their Families
The Military Consumer website provides information to help military personnel avoid scams, and the AARP provides a list of Do’s and Don’ts for veterans.
In addition, there are many resources available to help active service members, veterans, and their families better protect themselves and their finances.
- Militaryconsumer.gov provides information for service members to help keep their financial information secure.
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides a website and other resources on identity theft.
- The Better Business Bureau offers the BBB Military Line to help military families and veterans avoid scams and fraud.
- The AARP provides a veterans’ edition of its AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook.
- The United States Postal Service provides Operation Protect Veterans, which offers tips and prevention against scams.