Tragically, veterans are twice as likely to fall victim to scammers as the population at large. There are a number of reasons why, including that scammers know people who have served in the military share a special bond – one that can be exploited for gain.
Older veterans are even more at risk. They tend to be more trusting and are more susceptible to high-pressure tactics than younger persons. Sadly, there are far too many cases of older veterans losing their life savings and even their homes to these evil scammers.
That said, scammers are also targeting younger veterans through many of the same scams the general public is being targeted with. The scams are just modified to resonate with veterans. These include fake job postings, phishing and romance scams.
That’s why the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the AARP Fraud Watch Network have teamed up to create Operation Protect Veterans — a public education campaign designed to both alert veterans to scams and provide valuable information veterans can use to protect themselves.
What most people don’t realize is that many scams have a lifecycle. A scam is created and used; law enforcement detects the scam and it’s no longer worthwhile for scammers to continue it; the scam will then then go dormant for a while; and then, once scammers think enough time has passed, they relaunch the scam and start the cycle all over again.
Some of these veteran scams that everyone should be on the lookout for include:
- Benefits buyout offer: Scammers take advantage of veterans in need by offering a quick upfront buyout — usually at a fraction of the value — of future disability or pension payments.
- VA loan scam: Someone offers to refinance a VA loan at a lower interest rate.
- Fraudulent records offer: Scammers try to charge veterans a fee to access military records or government forms which are obtainable for free.
- VA phishing scam: Scammers posing as VA employees call veterans to “phish” for Social Security numbers and personal financial information, which they use to access bank accounts and/or open fake credit card accounts.
- Bogus employment scam: Scammers post fake job descriptions to collect personal information from a veteran’s job application, or they charge an employment fee.
Operation Protect Veterans advises to always remember the following:
- Give any personal information over the phone. This includes bank account numbers, credit card numbers and Social Security number.
- Send/wire money or gift cards to retrieve a prize. If the prize is legitimate, there shouldn’t be a cost to get it.
- Be pressured to act immediately. If the outfit is legitimate, they won’t try to pressure you to act before you have a chance to check it out and think about it. If they do, just say “no,” and hang up.
- Feel ashamed if you think you may have been victimized. Shame is a scammer’s best friend. Remember — you aren’t the bad person here. The scammer is. And, if you come forward and report what happened, you’ll be helping other veterans like you from becoming victims.
- Register your telephone number with the National Do Not Call registry at www.donotcall.gov.
- Check out the offer with a trusted family member, friend or your local VA office before acting.
- Get an answering machine and caller ID display. If you don’t recognize the person leaving a message, don’t pick up the phone!
- Contact your telephone service provider, and ask them what kind of services they offer to help you block unwanted calls.
- Check out any charitable donation request before sending money.
- Report if you believe you have been the victim of a scam. Contact your local police or AARP (firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-800-9023).
Operation Protect Veterans (www.operationprotectveterans.com) has valuable information to help veterans become educated on how to protect themselves from scams. Please spread the word. Let’s help protect the veterans who have done so much for us.
Carroll Harris is the assistant inspector in charge of communications for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. He has over 28 years of government service, with 15 of those as a federal agent. He is still active in the Marine Corps Reserve as a lieutenant colonel at Quantico, Virginia.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.