Scam Artists Take Advantage of Veterans in New Devious Schemes
Throughout history, American veterans have put their lives on the line, answering the call of duty, and becoming real-life heroes willing to give the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. These brave men and women return to become some of the most trusted and respected members of society. Unfortunately, these honorable characteristics are precisely the reason that veterans are often the targets of scams.
“Vets are specifically targeted because many of them are civic-oriented, civic-minded persons,” explained Danny DeLong, a veteran who volunteers with the Nebraska AARP. “They participate in the community. They want to help build a better community. And some of them have income streams from their benefits so they’re natural targets for scammers.”
DeLong, who served during the Vietnam War, volunteers with AARP Nebraska’s veterans committee. In 2017, the AARP Fraud Watch Network conducted a study that found U.S. military veterans are twice as likely as nonveterans to lose money to fraud. Almost 80% of veterans surveyed reported being targeted by scams related to their service.
“Veterans are falling prey to any of the scams that all the rest of us are confronted with every day when we pick up our phone, every day when we check our email – even every day when we go to our mailbox,” said DeLong. “But veterans also have specific scams that are being run such as attempts to commandeer their veteran’s pension.”
Some veterans are contacted with fundraising appeals from bogus military charities. Others are offered misleading options to refinance Department of Veterans Affairs loans. There are documented cases of veterans being told that they qualify for money from “secret” government programs, as long as they first pay a fee or provide personal information to the bad actor perpetrating the scam.
Another scheme singles out older veterans’ guaranteed benefits. Unscrupulous advisors sell the veterans on plans to boost their pensions. They tell the veterans that all they need to do is invest in a specific financial product that will make it appear they have fewer assets. What the scammers don’t tell the veterans is that these actions could disqualify them from other government help, including Medicaid, and strictly limit access to their money.
Still other scams are examples of ‘affinity fraud.’ In these horrible scenarios, crooks pose as veterans or as representatives of the organizations that support veterans. This plays on veterans’ trust and is a disgraceful way for scam artists to gain access to a veteran’s life. Some of these grifters impersonate VA officials and ask for personal information, like Social Security numbers, in order to update the veteran’s records. In another scheme, scammers posing as soon-to-be-deployed service members offer special deals on a variety of products. The scam artist asks for payment by wire, and once the funds are paid, the seller disappears.
Other scams target veterans who are seeking to improve their lives with a new job, better health care, or higher education. The list goes on, but vigilance is everyone’s best defense to ward off identity theft, investment fraud and other common veteran scams.
- If you get an unsolicited call from the VA, hang up.
- Never give personal information over the phone.
- Never open emails and attachments from people you don’t know.
- Never pay for your military records or government forms. All information is free though your local VA.
- Check the background of a charity to make sure they are legitimate before donating.
“Don’t answer the phone if you don’t know who’s calling. Don’t accept something that seems too good to be true,” said DeLong. “It’s the same with internet or email scams. Don’t open emails from people you don’t know, don’t ever open attachments to emails from people you don’t know. Never give out personal information over the phone or by email.”
There are some warning signs for veterans who want to be on high alert to this type of fraudulent behavior. For instance, if you receive a call or email from the VA and they request personal information, hang up or delete the email. The VA never asks for personal data over the phone, via text or through email. If you get an unsolicited call or message online from someone offering to increase your benefits, don’t be fooled. This is yet another bad actor with a scam up his sleeve.
“If someone believes or is concerned that they’ve received a call about a veteran’s benefit or something that sounds too good to be true, we’re going to encourage them to call their local county veterans service office,” said DeLong.
DeLong also recommends that veterans pick up a free copy of the AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook, which can help veterans spot bad actors and their typical scams.
“This is a must-have booklet. It has the top ten veteran’s frauds that are being perpetrated on our veterans right now,” said DeLong.
If you think you’ve been victimized by a veterans-related scam:
- Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360.
- Contact your county or state’s veterans affairs office.
- Reach out to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office at 888-287-0778.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, online or call 877-382-4357.