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AARP Report: Veterans Much More Likely Than Civilians to Be Targeted by Fraudsters

Con artists often pose as service members to prey on veterans

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Veterans, military personnel and their families continue to be targeted by con artists significantly more than civilians outside the military community and often lose more money when hit by similar scams, a new AARP report says.

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Solicitations tied to tech support or repair were the most common; next were bogus travel deals, lottery winnings, special discounts and phishing for account information, according to the just-released report, "Scambush: Military Veterans Battle Surprise Attacks From Scams & Fraud."

Thirty-five percent of service members and veterans lost money to a scam, compared to 25 percent of civilians surveyed. The largest number of military respondents fell victim to grandparent impostor scams, followed by tech support fraud, IRS impostors, fake offers to fix a low credit rating, credit card fraud and phishing emails seeking personal information.

When asked about scams tied to their service, 1 in 3 current or former service members said they lost money, and most often they were victimized by disability-benefit scams. Next most common were appeals from bogus veteran charities and fake requests to update military records. Among those who lost money, nearly half reported their loss arose after an offer promising a lump-sum payment for signing over their disability benefits to a scammer.

E-mail was the top communication method scammers used to reach the military community members surveyed, as 74 percent of these respondents said they received 10 or more spam emails a week. Robocalls were the next most common method of outreach, followed by suspicious texts or instant messages, the report says.

Why are veterans targeted? 

One reason veterans are heavily targeted by scammers is that the implicit trust in fellow members of the military community can make them more vulnerable to impostors claiming to be veterans.

“Veterans can be viewed as easy targets by scammers due to the veterans' sense of giving back to other fellow veterans," says Troy Broussard, a Desert Storm veteran and senior adviser of AARP’s Veterans & Military Families Initiative. "This has led to fake veteran charities or causes being [among] the highest scams reported by veteran victims.”

Military experience may also make it more difficult for veterans to recognize and combat the emotional manipulations con artists employ, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service. The Postal Inspection Service is a partner with AARP’s Fraud Watch Network in Operation Protect Veterans to raise awareness among former service members and their families about scams and fraud.

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Using military jargon. such as calling out a need for a “DD Form 214” to receive fake benefits, is another tactic used to make a scam seem legitimate. The form proves military service and is issued at the end of one's time in uniform.

“Scammers know that veterans share a special bond of service," says Daniel Brubaker, the Postal Inspection Service's inspector in charge and a Marine Corps veteran. "They also know that veterans and military families get special benefits, and thus, they know how to craft a scam to be as effective as possible to get veterans to let their guard down and open their wallets.”

A need for better education and defense 

Continued, targeted prevention tips to inform military members on how to spot the differences between a legitimate and a fake offer are needed to lower veterans' risk of losing money to scams, the report says.

More from the report

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. ET, join experts from AARP, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission in an online interactive conversation on the top scams targeting veterans, including mortgage scams, VA benefit scams, fake charities and tech scams. You can register for the Zoomcast here.

Watch the AARP Fraud Watch Network’s Facebook Live discussion featuring Troy Broussard, a Desert Storm veteran and senior adviser of AARP’s Veterans & Military Families Initiative, who reviewed the survey findings.

Listen to the latest episode of Take on Today, AARP’s news you can use podcast. It also features Broussard, who reviewed what the report’s findings mean for veterans.​

For example, no legitimate business will ask for payment with gift cards. And fraud victims who send money through gift cards, cash and payment apps like Zelle or Venmo will likely never be able to recover their funds. But the report found that these were some of the payment methods least utilized, generally, by both the military community and civilians.

To avoid scams, AARP recommends signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry and using a call-blocking service. Additional valuable safeguards include using strong and unique passwords for each online account; using two-factor authentication; and placing a free security freeze on credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus.

The survey, though, found that almost half of all respondents did not take advantage of robocall-blocking services and a third were not on the Do Not Call Registry. Both those in and outside the military community would benefit from more information on protections to reduce the risk of being targeted, the report says.

In May, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) developed a campaign to help older veterans and their families and caregivers identify scams and frauds such as pension-poaching schemes. The VA also offers information on veteran identity theft and has a toll-free help line for identity theft, 855-578-5492.

How does AARP help veterans combat fraud? 

AARP offers additional resources including alerts about the latest scams, a scam-tracking map, tip sheets and a podcast called The Perfect Scam. The AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: Veterans’ Edition explains 10 ways con artists target veterans. Those within the military community who have received suspicious emails, texts, phone calls or mail can report them to trained volunteers by e-mailing or by calling the AARP Fraud Watch Network help line, 877-908-3360.

Meanwhile, AARP advocates at the federal, state and local levels for policy changes that protect consumers and enforce existing laws.

About the survey: The poll was administered in August 2021 to 1,660 people, 851 active or former U.S. military respondents and 809 civilians age 18 and older, using NORC’s AmeriSpeak Internet Panel. The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level was 3.76 percent among the veteran group and 4.4 percent among the civilian group.

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