by Susan Bach
Wisconsin Better Business Bureau
My father was a Navy veteran who landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Even though he’s no longer with us, I don’t like to see or hear about a scammer taking advantage of any veteran or active duty military personnel.
So, in honor of Veterans Day, please share this information about scams that specifically target veterans and other military personnel. Since they’ve sacrificed so much to protect us, we should do what we can to protect them.
Unfortunately, these scams can take many forms. Oftentimes, new military enlistees are young, with clean credit histories (making them a prime target for identity thieves) and with a guaranteed paycheck for the next several years (making them a prime target for predatory salespeople).
Watch out for these types of scams:
- Firms that target veterans and charge them for products and services they can receive free or at lower cost elsewhere, such as military records and forms. The Wisconsin BBB warned consumers earlier this year about Lyon Research, a company charging veterans $90 for access to their military records that they can get for free.
- Scammers who contact veterans saying that they need to update their credit card information or other records with the Veterans Administration. The scammers then use the information to commit identity theft.
- Bogus charities with names that reference the Armed Forces and seek donations.
- Fraudsters calling themselves veterans’ advocates who try to convince veterans that they can get more benefits by transferring their investments into an irrevocable trust, which often contains unsuitable investments.
- Military Loans: Flashy offers promising "up to 40 percent of your monthly take home pay," "guaranteed loans," "instant approval," "no credit check," "all ranks approved". They often come with sky-high interest rates and hidden fees designed to bilk borrowers out of cash and damage financial security.
- Housing: Ads promising military discounts and too-good-to-be-true incentives use stolen photos of legitimate rental properties to bait renters out of security deposits via money transfer schemes.
- Cars: Low-priced vehicles posted on classified ad websites tout discounts for military personnel, or claim to be from soldiers who need to sell fast because they've been deployed. Schemers convince buyers to wire money; however, there is no car for sale since the picture of the car and all of its information is stolen.
- Veterans For Hire: This scam targets our younger veterans. Scammers pose online as representatives of government contracting firms. When veterans contact them for a job, they ask for a copy of the veteran’s passport before they can officially offer them a job. Of course, there is no job to offer and the con artist now has personal information that can be used for identity theft.
What to do?
- Protect Finances: Never wire transfer money to strangers.
- Check Companies and Charities: Research companies at www.bbb.org for free BBB Reliability Reports or Charity Review Reports.
- Defend Computers: Avoid visiting unfamiliar sites or opening e-mails from unknown senders. Install a firewall and updated anti-virus software.
- Safeguard Identities: Actively deployed military personnel can place an "active duty alert" on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft. With this alert, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires creditors and businesses to verify identities before issuing or granting credit. The Federal Trade Commission offers advice to help military families deter, detect and defend from identity theft.
- Report Scams: File complaints with BBB, www.bbb.org, the FTC, www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov, or the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
What We Can Do?
For those of us at home, if you receive a call or mail from a veterans organization asking for a donation, do your research. Many veterans organizations use professional fundraising organizations that can keep up to 85% or more of donations received. If they do not provide the information, ask if they are professional telemarketers. By law, they must disclose this information. Also, many of these veteran organizations are not tax deductible. A legitimate charity will allow you ample time to check them out. Visit www.bbb.org/charity for a list of nationally soliciting charities to make sure any charity you’re interested in donating to meets BBB’s Standards.
Remember that federal agencies do not contact veterans via e-mail or text. If they do call someone, they don’t request personal information. Veterans who receive suspicious correspondence can contact the Department of Veteran Affairs at 1-877-222-8387 with questions. You can get information on how to qualify for veteran’s benefits by contacting the state's veterans affairs agency. You can report suspicious e-mails and online scams to the FBI at its online complaint center.
BBB Military Line:
BBB offers our military personnel information and help. Since 2004, BBB Military Line has provided free resources to our military communities in the areas of financial literacy and consumer protection through the efforts of 164 BBBs across the U.S. Military personnel may access information at http://www.bbb.org/us/Military/.
For more consumer information, go to the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau’s website at www.wisconsin.bbb.org, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WisconsinBBB or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WisconsinBBB.