Scamming is big business. It affects millions of Americans and costs consumers tens of billions of dollars annually. Anyone can be targeted by scammers. But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that military families are especially vulnerable. Part of this is because they relocate frequently and have less of a connection to reputable local businesses. Mostly they are targets because crooks know they have a steady source of income. There are things those in uniform can do to prevent being scammed. Here’s a list of what to watch out for and what service members can do if they feel they are victims of fraud.
Common Scams Targeting Military Families
According to the FTC, a common practice of scammers is to impersonate someone representing a government agency. Military service members and their families have frequent contact with the government. So, receiving a call from someone claiming to be from a given agency isn’t farfetched.
For several years, the IRS was the agency scammers claimed to represent. They would call members of the military demanding payment for back taxes. Ironically, today, the agency scammers most impersonate is the FTC.
Their ploy claims that the FTC has prevailed in a large lawsuit and the settlement includes money for the victim they’re calling. The ruse is a familiar one. The funds cannot be released until the victim pays back taxes they owe.
Other scammers watch job boards searching for military spouses looking for part-time caregiver work. Posing as a potential employer, they’ll explain that to get the job the applicant must first buy expensive supplies like wheelchairs, walkers, or oxygen tanks before they can start.
They’ll even send a check that more than covers the cost, telling the applicant to simply wire the remainder back to them. Of course, when the check turns out to be fake, the victim is out the entire amount and stuck with useless medical equipment.
Schemes targeting the general population overlap the military community. Scammers prey on people behind on loans or in collection. These random callers can convince people with no debt that they owe money somewhere. Other scammers claim to be from religious organizations or say they are raising funds for the local fire department or police force.
Civilians Supporting The Military Are Also Targets
Scams with a military hook aimed at the general population include fake charities claiming to help military members. Other scammers pretend to be service men and women seeking financial help. Such shams ask for money to pay for food and lodging during deployment — even though the military covers these expenses. Such ploys count on people’s sympathy.
Online romance scams are another trick criminals use to take advantage of civilian targets. Pretending to be service members, scammers lure an unwitting dater into a trusting relationship that culminates in a face-to-face meeting. Sadly, the pretend service member unexpectedly cancels the date because he or she is about to get deployed.
Just before the unit musters, he or she requests a small loan to help care for a pet or pay for something equally sentimental. The loan is necessary because this thing can’t be attended to while he or she is serving overseas. This is the last time the two ever communicate. Like the money, the suitor is gone forever.
Preventing Military Scams
Preventing fraud requires a form of situational awareness many take for granted. Be cautious of things that fail the smell test. In general, service members should not trust anyone who:
- asks for money
- requests property be shipped to a third party
- claims a lack of support or services provided to troops overseas
- communicates only via social media or email
- claims to be in uniform but doesn't use a “.mil” email address
- misspells simple words or makes obvious grammatical or language errors
- speaks with a foreign or regional accent that doesn’t match the backstory Here are some other helpful suggestions.
Never respond to pressure or react to a request for immediate action to do something that involves money. If the person on the other end of the line demands payment the same day, or insists that something is a one-time opportunity, then the safest course of action is to end the call.
Before making any financial decision, you should slow down and take a deep breath; then consult comrades and trusted advisors. Taking a financial action over the phone or the internet without a keen understanding of who is on the other end of the transaction is typically unwise.
Demands that payment be in cash or a cash-like media, such as gift cards, wire transfers, and cash reload cards can be dubious and should likely be avoided. This is especially the case if the recipient is a recent acquaintance.
Those in uniform know how the armed services actually work. This can help avoid some of the common scams aimed at service members and their families. For example, your commanding officer will never call to authenticate someone’s request for cash. And as mentioned above, military members don’t need help paying for food while on deployment.
Doing some basic research is the proper approach if there is ever any doubt about the legitimacy of someone’s request for cash. If the person is genuine and really needs help, he or she can wait a day or two for that help. Again, the more immediate the plea for money, the greater the likelihood it is a scam.
What If You’ve Been Scammed
There are plenty of online resources for those who feel they have been scammed. They include:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
In addition to these online resources, all consumers are entitled to a free credit freeze. A credit freeze prevents lenders from gaining access to your credit report. This makes it difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in other people’s names.
Other best practices to help prevent identity theft include never sharing the following information over the telephone with anyone you don’t know who calls asking for a:
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s License Number
- Date of Birth
- Home Address
And, never respond to emails that request log-in credentials, even when the email appears legitimate.
Other Ways to Avoid Military Scams
Unfortunately, scammers go out of their way to prey on vulnerable people. This includes the elderly, the less educated, and military service members and their supporters. It is a sad reality of life. That’s why it is important to always be on guard. It is also important to teach family and friends how to spot and avoid scammers. Stay vigilant. Stay aware. And stay safe.