Scammers are always looking for ways to fraud people online, by mail, or in person. Veterans and their families receiving compensatory benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) are particularly sought-after targets. A 2021 AARP report found that 35% of veterans lost money to scammers compared to 25% of civilians.
According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data, veterans lost $267 million to fraudsters amidst the global pandemic in 2021 alone. It amounts to an increase of 162% from the previous year. The scammers often use phishing, identity theft, and investment fraud to prey on veterans and their families. The goal is usually to access the VA and other government agencies’ financial benefits to the veterans.
The veterans must understand how the scammers work and are vigilant to protect their financial interests. Let’s see how the fraud works and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is Veteran Fraud?
Veteran fraud is any fraudulent financial activity targeting veterans and their families. Scammers use several tactics to gain access to your bank accounts or other economic benefits that you receive from the government.
Whatever the tactic may be, the aim is to –
- Coax the veterans to share personal information such as SSN, bank account, etc.
- Charge the veterans a fee to access service documents that are free to access from the VA
- Exploit the veterans by offering fraudulent loans in exchange for future payments such as disability benefits and pensions, which are much higher than the amount offered
Top 5 Scams Targeting Veterans
The scammers have several ways to target veterans. Some of the most common veteran scams include-
1. Phishing Scams
Phishing scams are by far the most common online scams that target veterans. The fraudsters try to lure out sensitive personal financial information by sending emails posing as a government agency or a bank. The scammers doctor the emails to look as if authorities sent them with authentic-looking logos and seals to appear more authentic.
Some emails also encourage the targets to download an attachment, usually malware, that hacks your computer or smartphone, exposing your personal information to the hacker.
Scammers have also started using social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn to send phishing links and malware.
2. Investment and Military Pension Fraud
Scammers are always behind your pension and other financial benefits. One of the most common tactics con artists use to trap veterans is a promise of a bigger pension or disability check.
The scammers approach you with a promise of a bigger pension, provided you pay an initial investment. Once you pay the money, they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Con artists might pose as fellow veterans or friends of one of your acquaintances to add a layer of fake legitimacy.
Some fraudsters also pretend to be fund managers who help military veterans ‘manage’ their retirement funds.
3. The Secret Government Funding Fraud
The VA runs several programs to help veterans, including loans and financial assistance for establishing businesses. Although most of these programs are easily accessible through the VA website, some veterans might not know every little detail of such schemes.
Scammers take advantage of this and approach the veterans offering access to some ‘secret’ government funding. To apply for these elusive funds, you must give the scammers your personal information.
Before you realize the so-called secret funding never existed, the scammer has committed a loan scam with your stolen identity.
4. Charity Fraud
Names like Healing Heroes Network, Veterans Fighting Breast Cancer, or Military Families of America might sound like genuine charitable organizations seeking money to help your fellow veterans. The operative word here is ‘sound-like.’ Believe it or not, sham charity organizations like these have been duping veterans who genuinely want to help their cohorts.
In what can be only described as a deeply shameful act, scammers open and run fake charity organizations and seek funding from the veterans. Although the Federal Trade Commission keeps a close eye on such organizations misleading the donors, some often manage to escape the scrutiny and scam veterans.
Charities like these often throw around words like ‘heroes,’ ‘military,’ and ‘disabled’ to make their appeals sound more heartfelt. Rather than using money to help veterans, the money collected is laundered in some offshore accounts, never to be found again.
5. Veteran Healthcare Scam
In yet another appalling display of disrespect to veterans, scammers target elderly and ailing community members by posing as agents of the Tricare system– the healthcare program for military personnel.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the prevalence of this scam has risen tremendously. The scammers approach a veteran and assist them with their health care services, including COVID-19, to steal their identities.
Once the con artists get hold of your medical records and other sensitive information, they commit a much larger fraud.
6. Other Scams
Apart from these types of scams, con artists target veterans through classified ads for rental properties that offer reduced rents for veterans and military personnel. The target is to get the vets to wire transfer the security deposit for a non-existent apartment.
Scammers sometimes pose as ‘soon-to-be deployed’ service members who want to sell off their belongings, including property, vehicles, or electronic goods. The scammers want you to wire the money so that they can ‘ship’ the goods. Once you wire the money, neither the goods nor the con artists arrive.
How to Protect Your Family Against Frauds and Scams?
One of the biggest defenses against veteran fraud is awareness. The more people know about the scam, the better they can spot it. That said, just being aware does not mean you are protected.
We have all opened suspicious-looking emails and mistook a fake email for a real one. But here is the golden rule that you should follow to protect yourself and your family from these scammers-
Never share any sensitive, personal, or financial information with anyone.
No organization or government office will ask you for your personal information over the phone or by email. If you are unsure whether the email or phone call is genuine, report it to the authorities before divulging any information.
The following tips might help deal with scammers-
- If you receive an unsolicited phone call asking for personal information, hang up immediately.
- Check the VA website for any funding opportunity before entertaining any ‘secret funding’ schemes.
- Never give out your full SSN on job applications. Call the HR of the company you are applying to, to make sure that the job opening is legitimate.
- Never open links from an email address that you don’t recognize. The email is a scam if it is not from an official web extension.
- If you are using public wi-fi to fill out online forms, use a VPN to protect your data
How to Report a Scam?
If you have been duped by scammers or know a veteran who has, you should report the incident to the VA using the form 10-0500. You can contact the fraud department of the VA by contacting them on [email protected].
If you suspect you are a stolen identity victim, report the incident to your local police and contact the Federal Trade Commission or Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Protect Veterans from Fraud
Veteran frauds are rising, and you should ensure that you or your family does not fall prey to scammers. Staying vigilant and protecting your sensitive personal information is the only way to beat the scammers.
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