On Veterans Day, our nation honors those who have served in the military. On this and the 364 other days of the year, scammers try to abuse them.
Steady incomes in this tough economy and post-service benefits make active duty and former military personnel attractive targets. And other military-themed schemes continue, in which fraudsters pose as soldiers—or feign to be working on their behalf—to dupe patriotic and compassionate civilians.
So stand guard, particularly in coming weeks, for a likely increase in perhaps the most common con, phony veteran charities. You’ll get a call from someone asking you to donate to a veterans group—its name may sound like a big national organization you know. This is a proven “hot button” issue that opens the hearts and wallets of older donors, and scammers often seek them out by using telephone calling lists that list ages.
Here are seven other ploys that prey on those who fight for our country and those who care for them:
1. VA phone calls. Often targeting older vets, telephoning scammers pose as officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to glean personal or financial information, including credit card numbers. In one recent ruse that requested those numbers, potential victims were told that the VA was "changing its processes for dispensing prescription medications."
But like other federal agencies feigned in "Uncle Sham" calling cons, the VA makes no such requests by telephone.
2. Grandparents scam. Military families are the latest bull's-eye in this long-running scheme, which preys on loving grandparents. Just last month, a 69-year-old Texas widow lost $2,600 to a self-proclaimed attorney claiming that her grandson, a soldier in Iraq, had been arrested while on R&R in Mexico. The money was needed to get him out of jail. The reality: He was on a mission near Baghdad at the time. The scammer could have discovered that, plus grandma's name and hometown, by reading the soldier's Facebook page.
3. Military loans. The promises are for "guaranteed loans" and "same day cash" to active-duty personnel (and to a lesser extent, veterans) with "instant approval" and "no credit check" with "all ranks approved."
But the loans often come with sky-high interest rates and hidden fees.
What makes these finance-crippling loans especially disturbing is that military personnel may not need them at all — they have special financial protections, including a ban on their homes being foreclosed while they are serving.
4. Veterans benefits buyout plans. These promise a cash lump sum in exchange for a veteran's future pension payments. But the small print may note the lump sum represents only a fraction of the veteran's actual entitlement over time, warns the Better Business Bureau. If you're considering a plan, have a lawyer carefully review terms.
5. Housing scams. Military personnel searching for off-base housing can be swindled by phony advertisements of rental properties. Using stolen photos of legitimate listings, scammers pose as real estate agents or owners to get upfront fees — often with the promise of granting "military discounts" in setting the rent. The typical red flag: Any request to wire money or otherwise pay before getting proof the rental property exists or is available.
6. Phony jobs. Targeting younger vets, scammers pose as government contractors, sometimes on Internet job websites. The goal is to collect personal information under the guise of employment opportunities that don't exist.
7. Impostor schemes. In one ongoing online swindle, scammers pose as soldiers about to be deployed or as a family member of a service member killed in action. They offer to sell cars at bargain prices, saying circumstances require them to sell it quickly.
Upfront payment is requested (often by wire transfer), but the vehicles never arrive.
Another common ruse warranted another warning from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command two weeks ago. Thieves pose as military personnel in online romance scams, wooing American women in cyberspace before inevitably asking them for money.
Also of interest: More news about scams and fraud. >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.