Scammers know too well that one of the best ways to scam a veteran is to pretend to be a veteran — or some group that is friendly to military consumers.
Nearly one third of the vets and military consumers who responded to a new AARP survey lost money to scammers pushing fake veteran or military charities.
“Scammers know that veterans, we want to help out other veterans,” said Troy Broussard, a senior adviser on AARP’s Veterans and Military Families Initiative and U.S. Army Desert Storm veteran.
Sounds like you fought the same enemy but you didn’t
The fraudsters often target veterans, active-duty military and their families by first attempting to make a connection and create the impression that they’ve theoretically been in the foxhole together with the target.
To sound convincing, the AARP warns, scammers often use military jargon and specific government guidelines to craft a cause or story that could sound genuine.
Once a sense of camaraderie is established, the fraudster can pitch a fake charity, a false promise for free medical equipment or a variety of other scams targeting military consumers.
Veterans, active-duty service members and their families are nearly 40% more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population, according to the new AARP survey called “Scambush: Military Veterans Battle Surprise Attacks from Scams and Fraud.”
The survey found that veterans, military and their families continue to be targeted more by con artists.
“The real culprit here is the scammer, not the person who has been victimized,” Broussard said.
“It’s sad that we have our veterans sacrificing for their country and then be targeted,” he said.
Military consumers lost $122 million to scams in 2020
The Federal Trade Commission reported that military retirees and veterans who filed reports with the agency in 2020 lost $66 million. The median fraud loss was $569, according to the FTC’s annual Consumer Sentinel Network report released in February.
When you expand the universe to a wider range of military consumers, including spouses, the number of dollars lost jumps to $122 million. Nearly 1 in 4 of those military consumers reporting a scam to the FTC in 2020 lost money.
Military consumers are up against impostor scams, online shopping scams, prize or sweepstakes scams and travel and timeshare scams, according to the top 4 listed by the FTC.
Scams with a military twist
Some specific scams that mainly target the military aim to snatch ID information and money from military members.
The AARP survey noted that nearly a third of the military consumers surveyed said they lost cash paying for ways to update one’s personal military records.
And nearly half of those surveyed who were scammed reported erroneously signing over their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pension or disability benefits.
Veterans are targeted with promises of lump sum payouts for benefits because some are dealing with a significant financial loss, juggling a sizable amount of debt or going through an illness. So they might be more open to an offer of cash upfront in exchange for their future disability or pension payouts.
“Guess what? The lump sum payment never comes,” Broussard said.
Instead, the scammer now has important ID information, such as a Social Security number, to open fraudulent accounts and possibly is even able to steal important benefits through ID theft.
In other cases, many vets end up with just a fraction of the promised five-figure payouts, according to watchdog groups.
The bogus free medical equipment scam — where no free equipment ever arrives — also is used by scammers to steal vital ID information.
While scammers could know if someone is in the military, Broussard said robocalls can be designed to ask questions to help the fraudsters ferret out if someone is a veteran or was in the military. Never give away personal information on the phone or click on links in emails.
Broussard said it’s helpful to create your script for saying no on the phone. Possibly something like, “My answer is no, I’m not interested in your particular charity.”
He said the recommendation is that veterans check out military related charities by first going to CharityNavigator.org for information on highly rated nonprofits dedicated to veterans and military members.
Remember, the names of fake charities can sound like a legitimate nonprofit and they could often ask for money for wounded or disabled veterans. It’s best to research the charity on your own and not give into a pitch out of the blue on the phone.
The AARP notes: “Fraudulent charities not only steal money from donors; they divert needed support away from legitimate charitable causes.”
The AARP survey noted that military members and veterans also have been targeted by stimulus check scams and phony offers for testing and treatment related to COVID-19. About 30% of those surveyed lost money to the testing and treatment scams.
Many times, military consumers and others could benefit from taking advantage of robocall blocking services, registering their phones on the federal Do-Not-Call list or placing a security freeze on their credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus.
What’s a warning sign of a scam targeting military consumers?
Some red flags relating to scams targeting veterans include:
• Unsolicited calls offering to help you increase your benefits or let you take advantage of little-known government programs. These pitches are likely scams.
• Scammers often ask military consumers to pay for copies of their military records. But these are records that you can get for free through VA.
• While VA might check in with you by phone or email, consumers are warned that if they are unsure who is really calling they should hang up and call the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs directly at 800-698-2411.
• Don’t depend entirely on Caller ID to sniff out a scammer. Con artists can spoof a number to make it look like it’s coming from a government agency.
• When it comes to a fake charity, the AARP warns that signs of a scam outfit include pressuring you to donate on the spot, claims that you’ll get a prize or a thank you for a donation that you don’t remember making. A phony fundraiser might try to trick you into thinking you’ve already given to this group to lower your resistance.