It should go without saying that serving in our country’s armed forces is no easy task. Not everyone can answer the call of such selfless service and those who do should be held in high regard by the people whose freedom they protect. Unfortunately, criminals have little trouble scamming our nation’s service members to steal their money, identities, and more. Even worse, military impersonation fraud is on the rise because their unique circumstances can make them vulnerable.
There are a wide variety of scam threats facing active–duty military and veterans, both directly targeting service people and impersonating them:
- Phishing Scams – Active duty, deployed military are high-value targets for phishing scams because they are often handling “back home” issues that require additional legwork, time delays, and data transmission.
A common phishing scam claims a service member hasn’t paid an important bill, such as a car payment or mortgage, designed to trigger a desire to pay quickly since their lending institution is may be difficult to contact due to a time difference. Being told to verify their account information or risk losing access to a credit card while on deployment might lead them to divulge sensitive information to an identity thief. In order to avoid this, it’s important to verify the supposed charges, even if that means waiting until it’s possible to contact the company. If there are penalties from waiting, it’s important to explain deployment status.
- Internet Marketplace Scams – With the perception that soldiers and their families move frequently, scammers purposefully place deceptive items for sale on internet marketplaces, such as cars and home rentals, two items in particular that service members need in their new locations. Scammers know the location of heavily populated military bases and specifically target advertisements in those areas.
Experts warn that the only way to be certain that the sale is not a scam is to insist on seeing the property or item in person and making payment arrangements after viewing.
- Veterans Scams - Scams that target veterans are increasing. From healthcare scams to charities to “special discounts” for former service members, there’s a rapidly evolving toolbox for criminals attempting to steal veterans’ money and identities.
Many veteran scams use similar messaging as those targeted at active duty military personnel. Fraudulent emails, phone calls, text messages, social media messages, or postal mail originate from a spoofed or non-existent company, asking the victim to verify their personally identifying information or to make a payment. Veterans and service members can reduce their risk by refusing to verify personal information when contacted directly, refusing to make payment over the phone without contacting the company directly, and never buying a prepaid debit card or gift card to make payment.
Some scams fraudulently utilize military personnel or veterans identities as the tool to commit fraud, creating victims on both sides of the scenario. Defending against charges of fraud can leave lasting damage for those affected. Common types of military impersonation fraud include:
- Romance Scams – Online dating scams are common and can be heartbreaking. Not only has the victim lost money, but the relationship they believed was genuine is gone. In fact, that reality can be too painful for some victims to face, and some victims continue supporting the scammer for too long.
In a twist, one service member learned a stomach-churning truth: his name and photographs had been used by scammers to create hundreds of social media accounts with the purpose of scamming women out of money. He discovered the situation when women began contacting him, claiming to be in a relationship, and demanding repayment of their money.
- Secret Stash Scams – This scam, while generally targeting civilians, can haunt service members if their names or identities are used. A secret stash scam claims that a U.S. soldier has uncovered a trove of money or valuables while deployed. The solider needs the victim’s help getting the treasure out of the country, splitting the profit in return. This can be detrimental to a service member or veteran if their stolen names and photos are traced back to them.
Stealing items or money from a foreign country is a crime, and if the email recipient does help, they would be considered complicit. Scammers often claim that the theft is a patriotic duty, and if not completed, the enemy would further harm U.S. soldiers. If a soldier’s name is ever mentioned in a scam, law enforcement should be contacted so they can help take the appropriate action.
Before deployment, service members should contact their financial institutions as well as any other businesses with which they regularly do business to notify them of their scheduled deployment dates. If you or a loved one needs further assistance, contact the branch’s Criminal Investigation Unit, of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. Also, consider purchasing identity theft protection to monitor your information in places that you cannot, such as the dark web where stolen information is bought and sold.
For more information about identity protection from your Alumni Association available through The Alumni Insurance Program, click here.