The 7 Biggest Scams Targeting Veterans & U.S. Military

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Hari Ravichandran

CEO and Founder, Aura

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    What Kind of Monster Would Scam a U.S. Veteran?

    Military veterans and their families have access to special government resources. Unfortunately, scammers see these perks as targets for their scams.

    In 2020 alone, military veterans lost $66 million to veteran scams and fraud. Their family members and spouses lost a whopping $17 million [*]. 

    So how can you know if a charity, suspicious call, or veteran benefits program is legit or a scam?

    In this guide, we’ve listed the most common (and vile) veteran scams, the red flags to watch out for, and how to know if your identity has been stolen or used to commit fraud.

    What is Veteran Fraud?

    Veteran fraud specifically targets military veterans, retirees, active service members, and their families.

    Scammers target the victim’s money and banking information by posing as someone from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a military charity, or a group providing discounted services to veterans.

    In some cases, the fraud is committed by the veterans themselves, with the goal of securing veterans disability benefits.

    For example, this Florida bodybuilder pulled off a $245,000 scam by telling the VA he could only lift 10 pounds. Meanwhile, he was posting pictures and videos of himself flexing in the gym on social media.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 163,000 complaints of veteran fraud from 2015 and 2019. Even worse, veterans lose more money to fraud than active service members and civilians.

    So, how do scammers target veterans? How can veterans protect themselves and their families against scammers? 

    Common Scams Targeting Veterans

    1. Imposters pretending to be friends, relatives, or romantic interests
    2. Phishing scams from fake government agencies
    3. Charging for free military records
    4. Investment and military pension fraud
    5. Offering “secret” government funding
    6. Asking For security deposits on veteran-discounted properties
    7. Posing as veteran-friendly employers and schools

    1. Imposters pretending to be friends, relatives, or romantic interests

    Imposter scams remain the most popular type of veteran fraud, costing veterans and their families more than $40 million in total in 2020. 

    In this type of fraud, people pose as friends, relatives, or even romantic interests. (The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division receive hundreds of complaints a month of military romance scams.)

    The fraudster will approach veterans with an urgent financial need that preys on their sense of responsibility. For example, paying for child support or to cover rent so they don't get evicted.

    In another version of this scam, someone will masquerade as a government employee or member of a military charity. During these "affinity scams" an impersonator calls and asks for money, bank account numbers, or your Social Security number (SSN).

    If anyone reaches out to you over email, phone, text, or dating apps and asks for money or financial information, ignore them and report the fraud

    2. Phishing scams from fake government agencies

    Phishing scams are a type of social engineering attack in which scammers send emails that appear to come from an official organization, such as the government or a bank. The legitimate-looking email serves as the “lure.” But their true goal is to collect your banking or credit card information.

    In some cases, scam emails may ask you to click on a link or download an attachment. The link or attachment then proceeds to install malware on your computer if you click or download it.

    Scammers may also send phishing links through LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media platforms.

    3. Charging for free military records

    Scammers have also set up fake websites to charge veterans to access their military records or medical records (i.e., medical identity theft). But there is generally no charge for military members and their families to access basic personnel or medical records.

    Whenever you visit a site for the first time, make sure it's secure. This means that it uses "https://" instead of "http://" in the search bar. Secure sites will often also have a padlock symbol by the URL. Secure sites are less likely to be targeted by hackers and scammers, so your information will be safe.

    Pro tip: If you’re looking for military records, contact the VA or National Archives.

    For extra security, consider a VPN with antivirus and phishing protection. These tools will automatically block you from entering sites that could steal your information.

    Aura VPN and device protection
    [Source: Aura Device and Network Protection]

    4. Fraudulent investments and military pension frauds

    Military scammers will often target your benefits and pension.

    In this fraud, someone will approach you offering bigger pension payments in return for an upfront investment. But once you pay the fee, they disappear with your money and could even steal your benefits. 

    There are several ways that military scammers may approach you for these fraudulent investments. Some pose as a friend or another former soldier and encourage you to get in early on a great investment. Others will reach out pretending to be investment advisors or pension fund managers. 

    Never forget the golden rule of fraud prevention: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

    5. Offering “secret” government funding

    The government provides several loans to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Scammers take advantage of this by contacting veterans directly about “secret” government loans and funding programs. All you need to do is supply your personal information. 

    These “secret” government programs don’t actually exist. But by the time you realize you’ve been scammed, a fraudster has everything they need to steal your identity or commit real loan fraud.

    6. Demanding security deposits for veteran-discounted properties

    Con artists also take advantage of common veteran discounts to scam you out of money. 

    Scammers will post classified of Facebook Marketplace ads for property sales or rentals that are discounted for veterans. They might even give you a virtual tour or show you the property themselves. But before you can complete the transaction, they ask for a security deposit or downpayment. 

    When you show up, there’s either no property or the person scamming you didn’t have authority to sell or rent it.

    7. Posing as veteran-friendly employers or schools

    The last scam on this list targets veterans looking for employment or seeking higher education. 

    Scammers pose as legitimate companies and post job vacancies on websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Facebook. These employment scam listings will usually specifically call out veterans in their ad, making them more appealing to you.

    Fake LinkedIn message targeting veterans
    [Image Source: HackRead]

    While the type of scam can change, what happens next is always the same. As part of your job application process, the fraudster asks for your Social Security number, bank account information, or even payment for bogus training or work equipment. 

    Did you know? As of 2019 [*], there were over 4 million veterans above the age of 75 in the U.S. Outside charity scams, this group is especially vulnerable to other senior citizen scams.

    Warning Signs: How to Spot Veteran Scams

    • Unsolicited calls from someone claiming to be from the VA.
    • Phone calls from a private caller ID or hidden phone number.
    • Calls from charities that you haven’t interacted with. 
    • References to “secret” or little-known government programs.
    • Job ads for “previously undisclosed” government positions.
    • Requesting money for military records.
    • Urgent requests for upfront payments for jobs or properties.
    • Asking for credit card numbers, bank account information, or Social Security numbers.
    • Emails coming from a public domain address (such as gmail.com instead of a .gov email address).
    • Multiple spelling and grammar mistakes in messages.
    • A sense of urgency or the use of threatening language – government agencies will never threaten you or pressure you to send information.
    • Emails, calls, and texts from a bank you don't use.
    • Requests that you click a link or download an attachment.

    Pro tip: If you get a message or call claiming to be from a government agency, ask for a reference number and call them back from an official number. This way, you know who you’re talking to. 

    Is a Criminal Targeting You With a Veteran Scam?

    If you believe that a veteran scam has targeted you or a loved one, there are steps you can take to prevent identity fraud.

    Here’s how to handle different veteran scams.

    • Phone calls: Hang up on unsolicited phone calls, or ask for caller credentials if it’s an organization you recognize and then call them back on an official number.
    • Property discounts: Do not make any payments on veteran-discounted properties until you have a signed, written contract with the seller.
    • “Secret” government funding: Check the VA website for a list of legitimate veteran loan programs.
    • Job applications: Do not give your Social Security number on a job application. Call the company HR department to ask whether the job opening is legitimate.
    • Phishing emails and texts: Make sure to hover or click on the “from name” to see the actual email that sent you the message. If it’s not from an official website, it could be a scam. Don’t click on any links or download attachments. Delete suspicious emails and report them as spam. Do not wire money to a stranger, no matter what they promise or tell you it's for.
    • Suspicious websites for veteran benefits. Check that the site is "secure" before entering any personal information (even your email address). For added security, consider a VPN with malware protection to keep your devices and Wi-Fi networks safe.

    The VA also maintains a list of common military veteran scams you can reference. Check their site if you're unsure. If the scam isn't listed on the VA website, but you're still suspicious, do an online search for the organization plus the words "scam" or "fraud."

    Example of searching for veteran scams online

    If it is a scam, then you’re not the only one who has been contacted. Other people may have already reported suspicious activity.

    How to Report Fraud Against Veterans

    If you believe you have been the victim of veteran fraud by someone claiming to represent the Department of Veterans Affairs, you can report the incident using the VA form 10-0500 and send it to OCCProgramIntegrityTeam@va.gov.

    If the fraud has led to identity theft, file a report with the FTC and get in touch with your local law enforcement

    Pro tip: Follow this fraud victim's checklist for step-by-step instructions on what to do if you've been scammed.

    Where To Find Legitimate Veteran Resources

    Not every veteran resource is a scam. There are legitimate organizations that provide resources to veterans and active military personnel. 

    For starters, the VA provides a database of accredited representatives. You can use the website to find attorneys, claims agents, and Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) representatives. 

    VA search for veteran resources
    [Image Source: VA]

    If you’re concerned about a fundraising or charity scam, you can use the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance website to find legitimate veterans charities. Other resources include Charity Navigator and Charity Watch.

    The Postal Inspection Service also provides information on veteran scams as part of its Operation Protect Veterans. Check out their website for a list of the top three most common types of veteran frauds in each state.

    How Veterans Can Protect Their Families From Scams

    Unfortunately, there are scam artists out there who see military personnel and vets as prime targets. Awareness of the scams that target veterans is the first step. But awareness doesn’t equal protection. We’ve all accidentally opened a suspicious email or clicked a link without knowing what it was.

    At the very least, never give away financial information over the phone or via email. And, if you want to take a more proactive approach, you can use a credit monitoring and identity theft protection service for you and your family.

    Aura monitors your credit cards, SSN, and bank accounts and alerts you to any suspicious activity. Plus, Aura covers you and your family with up to $1 million in eligible losses due to identity theft. So if you do accidentally get scammed, you’ll have someone to help you recover. 

    Stay one step ahead of fraudsters by exploring Aura’s Identity Protection Services, rated #1 by U.S. News. We’ll keep you and your family safe from cybercriminals preying on your good nature. 

    Ready for ironclad identity theft protection? Try Aura 14-Days Free!

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers