FTC alleges firms promote military careers when they're really selling college places: Internet Scambusters #838
Whether you're just starting to look for a military career or you're reaching the end of one, you could end up being misled and out of pocket.
Marketing firms are being criticized for using questionable tactics to harvest and sell information about would-be recruits, while others are accused of trying to charge veterans for services that are free.
We have all the details for you in this week's Scambusters issue, plus an alert about printers being hacked.
And now for the main feature...
Dubious Military Career Sites Used to Generate Sales Leads
People considering a military career have been targeted by marketers and other dubious operators aiming to extract as much personal information as they can about would-be recruits.
When you think of it, applying for any kind of job online involves telling a potential employer quite a lot about yourself.
So, fake job adverts are an obvious course for identity thieves to follow. But they can also be used to pitch other career and education opportunities -- which is what seems to be happening with the military job tricksters.
They use familiar tactics to get their fake websites in front of would-be volunteers.
They use ads or try to manipulate search engine returns so that their sites appear high in the search when potential recruits key in search terms like "Army careers."
Without specifically claiming to be military sites, they use military-sounding names for their websites and often include photos of service personnel in action.
Once on the sites, victims are asked to provide lots of personal information and invited to click buttons supposedly leading to further information about military career opportunities. But more questions follow.
In some cases, initial website contact is followed up with telesales calls from reps purporting to be connected with the military.
The site operators are believed to be harvesting information to sell to marketing companies and colleges. According to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the information is sold as a "lead" at up to $40 a time.
The telesales callers say that by taking further education, victims would be enhancing their prospects of getting into the military.
"If the person agreed, the sales rep recommended schools that had paid the defendants for marketing leads," says the FTC.
The government agency has recently lodged a complaint against one company allegedly operating misleading military recruitment sites and then selling the information gathered to colleges seeking new students.
The Commission alleges that many of the calls were made to people whose names and numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry and therefore should have been excluded.
A proposed order against the company imposes civil penalty judgments against the firm of more than $12 million, which gives you some idea of the scale of this particular operation.
The FTC has issued three serious warnings about cases such as these.
First, any promotion that misleadingly purports to be from a government agency or any site that conveys a false military connection is a violation of the law.
Second, companies that promise privacy for site users -- as some of these do -- must honor them, not sell them.
And third, it says, "When it comes to deceptive practices targeting service members, veterans, or civilians interested in serving their country, the FTC takes those allegations seriously. Very, very seriously."
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued another warning about job scams targeting those already or formerly in the military.
"Veterans looking for work are especially vulnerable to hiring scams," it says, "and their activity and public profiles on legitimate job search sites can attract the attention of fake job recruiters and other con artists."
It warns veterans applying for civilian jobs against paying upfront fees for supposed training and equipment costs using money wiring services.
Great salaries and work-from-home opportunities are also red flags, says the VA. Fake recruiters sometimes even send links to real companies in an effort to seem more convincing.
The VA offers these tips to vets looking for civilian jobs:
- Verify the legitimacy of unsolicited emails seeming to come from a corporate recruiter.
- Even if you receive a job offer through an established job site, independently find the number of the supposed employer and contact them directly.
- Don't provide information like Social Security numbers and credit card details to anyone until you have truly verified their identity.
- Don't agree to or participate in a background check until you have met a prospective employer at their workplace during normal hours.
- Beware of job ads that are poorly worded or contain spelling errors or use an email address that doesn't include the company name.
The VA is also warning about another common scam aimed at veterans -- this time offering to supply service records or government forms for a fee. Some websites charge up to $150 for obtaining certain records under the guise of their being "expedited."
Vets transitioning to civilian life do need a copy of their records so they can get certain benefits. They may also want copies of their health and military personnel records, along with requests for disability compensation and rehabilitation records.
But all of these documents are available free from the VA. Often, the relevant documents can be supplied within 24 hours. You don't get more expedited than that!
So, whether you're just starting out in pursuit of a military career or coming to the end of one, watch out for those scammers. They've got you in their sights.
Alert of the Week
We wrote a few weeks back about how scammers might be able to hack printers with a fax connection.
Now, we learn that unscrupulous marketeers may have found a way to hack into network connected printers to send ads, flyers, and other messages.
The hackers claim to be able to "reach every single printer in the world."
Quite a claim that has yet to be proven. But if an unexpected ad turns up on your printer, at least you'll know how it happened.
For more on this, check out New online service will hack printers to spew out spam.
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!