ROCKFORD – Veterans Day is Monday, Nov. 11. More than 18 million people are U.S. military veterans. It’s a fitting time to say thank you to military veterans for their sacrifice and service; protecting us and our country. It’s also a good time to give veterans and their families a heads-up on potential fraud.
“Scammers target ex-service members in many different ways, they use vet-oriented twists on identity theft, phishing scams, impostor scams, and investment and loan deceptions,” said Dennis Horton, Director Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau. “The goal is to get access to the benefits the government provides or to the veteran’s accounts.”
The list of scams these crooks use is long; to name a few:
- Veterans get a call and are told they qualify for money from “secret” government programs but must first pay a fee or provide personal information.
- Scammers exploit veterans who are in financial need by offering them cash upfront in exchange for what they say will to be higher future disability or pension payments; all at a cost.
- Con artists attempt to charge veterans for access to their military records or government forms. All of those are free from the local VA office.
Going the imposter route scammers will pose as vets themselves or pretend to be representatives of organizations that support veterans.
- In a phishing scam they will impersonate someone from the Veterans Administration and ask for personal information such as Social Security numbers, saying they need to update the veteran’s records.
- Scammers, sometimes posing as soon-to-be-deployed service members, offer special deals for veterans on cars, electronics and other products. They will want payment made by wire transfer (Western Union or MoneyGram). Once they get the money, the seller disappears, and the goods never arrive.
- Acting as rental agents fake classified ads for rental properties are placed with offers of discounts for veterans and their families. Targets are instructed to wire money for a security deposit for what turns out to be a nonexistent property; or properties currently occupied by the owners.
Horton notes “The scam list is long, but the warning signs are those most of us know…or at least should. They are the same signs that tip us off to the IRS or Social Security card scams. Like all other government agencies, the VA never calls to request personal information like your Social Security number. The VA will never ask for personal data by text or email either.”
Another red flag, you may be dealing with a scammer, you get an unsolicited high-pressure fundraising call from a veteran’s charity you have not previously supported or had any contact with. If you plan to donate to a military-affiliated charity, here are some tips on how to avoid being scammed:
- Watch out for charities that sound similar to more well-known ones. Many fake veterans’ charities include the same words in different order or form to appear legitimate.
- Look for a clear description of the organization’s programs in its appeals and on its website. If the charity says it’s helping veterans, does it explain how (financial assistance, shelter, counseling) and where it is doing so?
- Telemarketing can be a costly method of fundraising unless carefully managed. If called, do not hesitate to ask for written information on the charity and its finances before making a decision.
- Be wary of excessive pressure in fundraising. Don’t be pressured to make an immediate on-the-spot donation. Legitimate charities will welcome your gift whenever you want to send it.
- Check first before giving for free with charity monitoring services like BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance.
There are many actions Vets can take to protect themselves and their families from being ripped-off; the two most important are “think before you act” and “verify then trust”.