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Exploiting Our Finest: 10 Scams That Target Veterans

How to outwit fraudsters who target you and your family

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

There are around 18 million veterans in the United States. Their admirable qualities such as patriotism, openheartedness, optimism and can-do spirit — not to mention their earning power and access to benefits — make them a juicy target for scammers.

Those who have served our nation are more likely than civilians to lose money from scams. Veterans and their families can protect themselves from criminals by being aware of the most common scams aimed at them.

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1. Pension poaching

scammer promises to help a veteran grow his or her retirement funds or obtain extra benefits from the VA. Often, this scam is aimed at former service members who do not actually qualify for VA pensions. Victims could be required to repay these fraudulently obtained benefits to the government.  

2. Benefits buyout

Someone contacts you and offers to help navigate the bureaucracy at the VA. Maybe the person claims you’re eligible for expanded benefits or says that he can get you your benefits in a lump-sum payment. Of course, a lump-sum payment never materializes or the cash being offered is a fraction of the value of the benefits.

3. Identity theft

The VA is not in the business of calling people out of the blue. If you get an email claiming to be from the VA and it asks for personal information, this is a scam 100 percent of the time.

Identity thieves sometimes notify you that your information has been exposed to a data breach.

Thieves pretending to be from the health care program Tricare sometimes contact beneficiaries and offer them services. It’s another trick to steal personal or financial data.  

4. Rental and moving scam

You’re moving and you’re looking for apartments online. You find a place that has discounted rent — just for veterans. Be sure to have your scammer radar up. Don’t send money if you haven’t seen a contract. You can also protect yourself by verifying property ownership online. This scam works because some landlords really do take pride in serving veterans. Sometimes, a cheap moving deal will be offered — you pay, then your household items don’t arrive.

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AARP Can Help
 

The new AARP Veterans Fraud Center is the go-to website on this subject. There you can download the Veterans Edition of the AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook. AARP resources include alerts about the latest scams, a scam-tracking map, tip sheets and a podcast called The Perfect Scam.
 

Those within the veteran and military community who receive suspicious emails, texts, phone calls or mail can report them to trained volunteers by emailing protectveterans@aarp.org or calling the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

5. Fake military charities

Bogus military charities steal your money — and indirectly steal from real military charities. One option is to stick with established charities. If you want to donate to a newer charity, do some homework, such as searching online for the charity’s name plus the word “scam” or “complaint,” to see if there are previous complaints. Watch out for charities that pressure you to donate right away or claim you can win a prize if you donate, which is illegal.

6. Free records scam

A scammer might try to charge for access to records such as your DD Form 214. These services are free by law. A quick online search should lead you to an official government site for whatever records you’re looking for.

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7. Online romance or business scams

You meet someone on a dating site or via social media. This person is charming and very interested in you. He or she might use a made-up military connection to lower your guard, and then suggest you move to another platform to talk more intimately. But you never meet in person. The individual starts asking for money, and soon the requests become relentless demands.

There are phony vet groups on social media. If they’re not your real-life friend and they’re offering you investment advice or have some other brilliant way to make you rich, you should probably run.

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8. Special deals for vets

This scam works in two ways. One is that a person poses as a member of the military about to be deployed. They need to sell their car or something else and offer a great deal. You send payment electronically — but the product never appears. The other is that you stumble onto a site that promises an amazing price for veterans. Again, you send money but get nothing in return.

Never, ever send money to someone whose identity cannot be verified.

9. Employment scams

You’re looking for work and find a job listing that is specifically targeted to veterans. It pays well, and you’re qualified. As part of submitting your application, you need to send your personal information or, especially troubling, credit card or bank details

Make sure you’re working with a real company. And remember that if it’s too good to be true ... it’s not true.

10. G.I. Bill education marketing scam

Scammers exploit veterans seeking to take advantage of the G.I. Bill for college courses by using deceptive marketing tactics and false information to encourage them to attend expensive for-profit educational institutions. The VA offers a comparison tool to help you locate the right school and determine your benefits.

Ben Nussbaum is a writer, editor and publisher based in northern Virginia. He was formerly head of Special Projects at USA Today and has overseen publication of numerous books, from technical manuals to children's stories.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.