Military scams are on the rise. The FTC estimated that Veterans lost around $177 million due to fraud in 2021. This is over half of the amount lost that was reported for all Americans in 2020. The same study showed that more than 160,000 Veterans reported scams and identity theft. How could this be?
Well, scammers are usually pretty good at what they do. They make promises to help speed up the waiting process for benefits, profess undying love, and do just about anything they possibly can to prey on common vulnerabilities. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into their trap. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your military loved ones from different scams and identity theft.
The best place to start is by looking at the most common scams plaguing Veterans, active-duty military members, and their families.
An Overview of Common Military Scams
It’s impossible to list all of the different tactics scammers will use to target people, but there are a lot of common avenues they take to get their victims to open their wallets, help out with (usually illegal) favors, and share personal information. Here are some of the most common military scams to look out for.
1. Military Romance Scam
It’s natural to want love. Everyone wants to find the person they’ll spend the rest of their life with. Scammers know this. They use military romance scams to take advantage of this inherent desire many of us have. Scammers will target vulnerable people, whether in the military or not, to obtain money or information.
The scammers are usually online. They can be found on a dating website or social media. The scammer will claim to be in the U.S. military, probably deployed in another country. But they usually come on very strong, professing their love almost immediately. They’ll use pet names early on to get their victims hooked, much like the infamous Tinder Swindler. Then, the relationship will shift. They’ll begin asking for money or favors. They’ll always have an excuse as to why they can’t video call or answer their phone.
These scammers will try to keep their victims hooked for as long as they can. They pose as active military members and often claim they need money to get back to America.
Overall, military romance scams start by building a fast and strong relationship. They come on very quickly to get someone hooked. This way, they can try to negotiate favors or drain your bank account. All in the name of “love.”
But there’s nothing loving about these “relationships.” In general, it’s important to be wary about online relationships – especially if you haven’t met with, seen, or spoken to anyone on the phone. It’s easy for scammers to pretend to be deployed military members when they definitely aren’t. Military dating scams can also target regular civilians who may not have a lot of knowledge on the military, but anyone could be at risk.
2. Sextortion Scams
Sextortion scams have been an issue for active-duty military members and even everyday civilians. The way these scams work is by outright threatening the victims. Extortionists persuade their victims to send explicit photos or do sexually explicit video calls. Then, they’ll threaten to send the images to loved ones, commanders, and friends unless money is paid.
As if this isn’t bad enough, paying the money won’t stop them. It actually puts the victim at even more risk of being targeted. It becomes a dangerous cycle.
Those who do fall into the sextortion scam should never send the money. Communication with the extortionist should be cut, and law enforcement should be contacted.
3. Pension Theft, Benefit Scams, and Identity Theft
Veterans with military pensions are a prime target for scammers. In order to gain access to the incoming money, scammers try to convince Veterans to move their payouts to a different account. This causes Veterans to lose access to the funds.
This can even occur with someone a Veteran is close to. So, it’s important to make sure you don’t give important information or account access to anyone.
Veterans are also targeted by fraudulent calls. The calls claim to be companies like the VA or home loan providers. They typically call to try and obtain information from Veterans and their families. Usually, they do this by stating that families are facing home foreclosure or that there are changes to their benefits.
This is how they get personal information. They ask for identification (usually social security numbers and bank account information). This can also lead to identity theft.
The best way to protect yourself from theft is to never share personal information with unsolicited calls and always double-check who you’re speaking to. Chances are, these callers aren’t who they claim to be.
4. Pact Act Scam
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law recently. The law provides a promising future for Veterans who have been negatively affected by burn pits. The burn pit bill passing was a massive success for Veterans. Some Veterans have waited for a decade to receive compensation and health care. So, a lot of people are expected to be filing for and receiving benefits soon.
But questions on how scammers may take advantage of the passing of the PACT Act have recently hit the news.
It makes sense. Scammers take advantage of people who want or need something. In this case, Veterans may have to wait to receive their benefits. Successful scammers know this, and they may begin promising Veterans their much-awaited benefits early… all for a small price.
Before opening your wallet, just know that the VA will not expedite benefits to you sooner for a fee. If someone is asking for money to get you your benefits quicker, it’s a scam.
In general, providing personal information on the phone or sending money for a small fee are major red flags for online scams. It’s an even bigger red flag if you feel rushed by the caller to send it immediately. In order to keep yourself and your information safe from scammers, being aware of red flags is the first step.
How To Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Scammers are determined to obtain money or steal identities for their own nefarious purposes. They constantly evolve to find success with their scams. While it’s difficult to cover every individual circumstance Veterans, military members, and their families may face from scammers, there are some common red flags you can look out for.
There are several major warning signs that a scammer may be trying to take advantage of you or a loved one. Below, we listed major red flags to look out for. We also compiled a comprehensive list with tips that’ll help you protect yourself and your loved ones from military scams.
Red flags to look out for:
- Obvious spelling errors, substitutes of letters for similar-looking characters, or strange designs of letters in messages.
- Emails sent from public domains instead of official email domains (for example, the emails come from “@gmail.com,” but the person claims to be working for the VA).
- Requirement of an upfront fee to receive benefits or to access records.
- Puts pressure on you to act quickly.
- Asks for personal information to verify identity or request information to update records for benefits.
- Online romantic suitors come on very strong, very quickly. They ask for money or favors from you, claiming hardship (but promise a future together).
- You’re asked to click on or sent a suspicious link.
- It’s too good to be true.
Protect yourself by:
- Never send personal information, such as a social security number, banking account information, or credit card information.
- Don’t respond to anyone threatening or extorting you. Contact law enforcement immediately.
- Never trust unsolicited callers asking for money or personal information.
- Don’t click on suspicious links.
- Always request to have a video call with online suitors.
- Do a background check on who you’re talking to on dating websites (reverse Google image search, look through social media accounts, and be wary of anyone who comes on too strong too quickly).
- Never send money to online dating profiles (or anyone).
- Be wary when asked to ship any kind of property or item to a third party.
- Do your research (when in doubt, research it. You’ll usually find flaws in scammers’ stories).
Overall, just take your time to research everything. It’s easy to trust people online, but not everyone has your best interest at heart. Be careful, and do what you can to protect yourself.
If you do fall victim to any military scams, it’s important that you report them. Below, we listed some resources to contact if you or a loved one becomes entangled in a scam.
FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
U.S. Military Criminal Investigation Division
Federal Trade Commission
- Report identity theft online to help with investigations
- Call 1 (877) 438-4338
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
- Email [email protected] to report Nigerian scams
Military scams are common. If you fall victim to one, just know it is not your fault. Scammers prey on vulnerabilities. They sell their victims a fantasy in order to steal money or personal information. It’s a lot easier to get wrapped up in a scam than some may believe. Especially for those who might be struggling or hitting a rough patch in their life. With the easy access social media gives scammers to us, it’s more important now than ever to advocate for and protect yourself.
Protecting yourself comes down to being aware of common red flags. When you know what to look for and view the situation from a more objective perspective, it’s easier to advocate for yourself and close loved ones who may be impacted.
There are online advocacy groups that call out different military scams. If you’re looking for additional information, these support groups are a great place to start. They call out different scammers and different kinds of scams Veterans and military members can get wrapped up in. But overall, remember the red flags to keep yourself and your family safe from online military scams.
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