Agencies Team Up to Fight Veterans Scams

AARP, Postal Inspectors and Federal Trade Commission launch campaigns to raise veterans’ awareness of scam risks: Internet Scambusters #793

Veterans and other service personnel are twice as likely to be scammed as non-veterans — often because their situations put them more at risk than the rest of us.

In this week’s issue, we’ll outline two major campaigns that have been launched to help protect them.

We’ll explain the most common scams that veterans face and provide links to relevant web pages for more help.

Now, here we go…

Agencies Team Up to Fight Veterans Scams

Veterans and people who currently serve in our armed forces are unfortunately a special target for evil scammers.

A recent survey by AARP, the organization representing the interests of older people in the United States, found that military veterans are more likely than other people to be the victims of a scam.

In fact, the study found that, proportionately, twice as many veterans as non-veterans (16 percent versus 8 percent) lost money to con artists during the past five years.

It also established that nearly 8 of every 10 veterans have actually received a scam call and that more than 4 out of every 10 receive at least 10 scam emails each week.

“Unfortunately, the men and women who bravely served our country have become a prime target of telephone and online thieves,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “While veterans are bombarded by the same scam pitches we all receive, our research found that they’re also under special attack by a number of additional scams tailored just for them.”

Crooks pose as veterans on online dating sites, set up fake charities, and bombard military personnel with fake loan, medical support, and grant offers that can cost their victims a fortune.

They also pretend to be servicemembers about to be posted overseas who need to sell expensive items at a big discount. Or they may offer to sell items or rent out property with a large military discount — with payment required upfront, of course.

Now several organizations, including AARP, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the Federal Trade Commission, have launched programs to protect veterans and raise awareness of the risks of being scammed.

The AARP and USPIS have jointly launched Operation Project Veterans, which plans several online and postal campaigns to highlight scams aimed at veterans and their families.

Around 6.5 million veterans are members of AARP, while the Postal Service is the nation’s largest employer of former service personnel — 113,000 of them in total.

For more information, check out the Operation Project Veterans page. And you can read the full results of the survey, conducted last November, at Under Fire: Military Veterans and Consumer Fraud.

FTC Task Force

Meanwhile, the FTC has launched a website dedicated to its new Military Task Force, which has a wide brief to “empower servicemembers, veterans and their families including through law enforcement actions.”

Latest available figures show that the FTC received more than 100,000 complaints from this group of people in a single year — mostly from retirees and veterans.

The top complaints focused on identity theft, debt collection, and impostor-type scams — for example, pretending to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs requesting confidential personal information or fake financial advisers looking to divert savings to their own accounts.

“Servicemembers devote their lives to protecting us, so it’s incumbent on us to protect them,” said FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “This task force will work on identifying the needs of military consumers and work on several initiatives to address those needs.”

Frequent relocation, living alone, and earning a paycheck for the first time are cited as among the reasons why servicemembers are singled out as scam targets.

Scammers also exploit concerns that the FTC says are unique to military folk such as the threat of disciplinary action or a risk to their security clearance because of an alleged debt, which may affect their ability to continue serving.

Actions already launched by the FTC include a training program for military attorneys, financial advisors, and several other support services to help identify and prevent fraud aimed at servicemembers.

The Military Task Force web page includes links to social media pages, background reports, and lists of the most common veterans scams.

The FTC also operates a financial education and scam awareness site for military personnel, Military Consumer.

Warning Order Issued

Finally, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Veterans Affairs have recently issued a joint “warning order” advising service personnel about fake loan offers.

These calls and emails from scammers are always unsolicited and usually of the “too good to be true” variety, including incredibly low interest rates, offers of skipped mortgage payments, and high-pressure sales tactics.

Veterans who are in debt and having trouble making home loan payments are encouraged to ignore these fake deals and contact the VA.

Alert of the Week

If you’re a Google Gmail user, you could be taken in by an alert that seems to come from “Google Service Reporting,” with a message about delayed emails.

Typically, the subject line will say something like “3 delayed emails found.” If you click on the supplies link, you’ll likely end up on an overseas pharmacy page.

Maybe that doesn’t seem too bad — you can just close the page — but the spammers now know your email address is active and may use it for other purposes.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.