Susan Tompor: Military consumers a prime target for losing money to bogus charities | Personal finance
Scammers know all too well that one of the best ways to rip off a veteran is to pretend to be a veteran – or a friendly bunch of military consumers.
Almost a third of veterans and military consumers who responded to a new AARP survey lost money to scammers pushing fake veterans or military charities.
âThe crooks know as veterans, we want to help other veterans,â said Troy Broussard, senior advisor for the AARP Veterans and Military Families Initiative and US Army veteran.
Looks like you fought the same enemy but you didn’t
Scammers often target veterans, active duty military personnel and their families by first trying to make a connection and create the impression that they have theoretically been in the hole with the target.
To sound convincing, AARP warns, crooks often use military jargon and specific government guidelines to create a cause or story that might seem genuine.
Once a sense of camaraderie is established, the fraudster can launch a bogus charity, bogus pledge of free medical equipment, or a variety of other scams targeting military consumers.
Veterans, active duty members and their families are almost 40% more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population, according to the new AARP survey titled “Scambush: Military Veterans Battle Surprise Attacks from Scams and Fraud “.
The investigation found that veterans, military personnel and their families continue to be more targeted by scammers.
âThe real culprit here is the crook, not the person who was victimized,â Broussard said.
“It is sad that our veterans sacrifice themselves 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 one in four military consumers reporting an FTC scam in 2020 has lost money.
Military consumers face 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 primarily target the military are aimed at extracting identity information and money from the military.
The AARP survey noted that nearly a third of military consumers surveyed said they lost money paying to update their personal military records.
And nearly half of those polled who were scammed said they mistakenly signed their retirement pension or disability benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans are targeted with promises of lump sum payments for benefits because some face significant financial loss, juggle a considerable amount of debt, or suffer from illness. They may therefore be more open to an offer of a cash advance in exchange for their future disability or retirement payments.
âGuess what? The lump sum payment never comes,â Broussard said.
Instead, the scammer now has important credentials, such as a social security number, to open fraudulent accounts and is even able to steal important benefits through identity theft.
In other cases, many vets are left with only a fraction of the promised five-figure payments, watch groups say.
The bogus free medical equipment scam – where free equipment never comes in – is also used by crooks to steal vital credentials.
While crooks can find out if someone is in the military, Broussard said robocalls can be designed to ask questions to help scammers find out if someone is a veteran or was in the military. . Never give out personal information over the phone or click on links in emails.
Broussard said it helps to create your own script for saying no over the phone. Maybe something like, âMy answer is no, I’m not interested in your particular charity.
He said the recommendation is for veterans to check out military-related charities by first going to CharityNavigator.org for information on highly rated nonprofits dedicated to veterans and the military. .
Keep in mind that the names of fake charities can look like legitimate nonprofits, and they can often ask for money for injured or disabled veterans. It is best to research the charity on your own and not give in to an unexpected speech over the phone.
The AARP notes: âFraudulent charities not only steal donor money, they divert needed support from legitimate charitable causes.
The AARP investigation noted that the military and veterans have also been targeted by stimulus screening scams and bogus offers of COVID-19-related testing and treatment. About 30% of those surveyed lost money to test and treatment scams.
Many times, military and other consumers could take advantage of robocall blocking services, putting their phones on the federal do not call list or freezing the security of their credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus. .
What is a warning sign of a scam targeting military consumers?
Here are some red flags associated with scams targeting veterans:
â¢ Unsolicited calls offering to help you increase your benefits or take advantage of little-known government programs. These sites are probably scams.
â¢ Scammers often ask military consumers to pay for copies of their military records. But these are recordings that you can get for free through VA.
â¢ Although VA may contact you by phone or email, consumers are cautioned that if they do not know who is actually calling, they should hang up and call the US Department of Veterans Affairs directly at 800-698-2411.
â¢ Don’t rely entirely on Caller ID to spot a scammer. Scammers can spoof a number to pretend it comes from a government agency.
â¢ When it comes to a bogus charity, AARP warns that signs of a scam include pressuring you to donate on the spot, claiming you will get a prize or a thank you for a donation that you don’t remember making. A bogus fundraiser might try to trick you into believing you’ve already donated to this group to reduce your resistance.