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 with no moral compass have little trouble scamming our nation’s service members to steal their money, identities, and more. Even worse, fraudsters targeting our military members is more common than many might think; members have unique factors that make them especially susceptible to these crimes, such as deployment.
There are a wide variety of scam threats facing active–duty military and veterans. They can manifest as both targeting soldiers and impersonating them. Some of the scams targeting soldiers include:
- Phishing Scams – Members of the military are hot targets for phishing scams for many reasons, but it boils down to a few key factors of life: first, our troops have more access than before to technology and internet connections, but at the same time, handling “back home” issues while stationed abroad isn’t quite as seamless as it for civilians.
A phishing scam that claims a service member hasn’t paid an important bill—like a car payment or mortgage payment might trigger a soldier into handing over the money on the spot since their lending institution is likely closed depending on the time they are contacted. Being told to verify their account information or risk having their only working credit card suspended while on deployment might lead someone to turn over all of their sensitive information to an identity thief. In order to avoid this, it’s important to fight the temptation to handle it quickly; take some time to verify the charges, even if that means waiting for a few days until you can reach out to the company. If there is fallout from waiting, explain that you are deployed and had no access to your account.
- Internet Marketplace Scams – With the perception that soldiers and their families move around a lot, scammers post fraudulent items for sale on internet marketplaces specifically hoping to snare service members. Common items include cars and home rentals, two items in particular that service members will need in their new locations. Scammers know where the heavily populated military bases are located and set up their advertisements in those specific areas in order to trap new arrivals.
As tempting as it may be to have all of the arrangements in order before arriving at a new base, experts warn that the only way to be certain of not falling into a sale scam is to insist on seeing the property or item in person and making payment arrangements after viewing.
- Veterans Scams – Unfortunately, this kind of targeting doesn’t end once a service member returns to civilian life. If anything, there’s a whole new spectrum of scams that seek out veterans. From healthcare scams to charities to “special discounts” for former service members, there’s no end to the ways that criminals try to steal veterans’ money and identities.
Many veteran scams use a similar method, namely messaging. Whether it’s through email, phone call, text message, social media, or postal mail, a lot of these originate with some kind of contact from a spoofed company, asking the victim to verify their identifying information or to make some kind of payment. By using some of the tried-and-true defenses against this, veterans and service members can reduce their risk of being victimized by a scammer. Some of these defenses include never verifying your information to someone who contacts you, refusing to make any payment over the phone without contacting the company directly, and never buying a prepaid debit card or gift card to make payment.
In scams involving impersonation of service members or veterans, the individual who is being impersonated can also be a victim. The upheaval at having to defend against charges of fraud and the knowledge that others have been victimized by their good names can leave lasting damage. Some scam involving fraudsters impersonating military personnel include:
- Romance Scams – Online dating scams are one of the most common and most heartbreaking categories of scams. Not only is the victim out the money they gave to the scammer, the relationship that they believed was genuine is also gone. In fact, that reality can be too painful for some victims to face up to, and some victims continue supporting the scammer long after the truth should have become evident.
Romance scams that involve “lonely” soldiers reaching out to civilians are bad enough, but it can be harmful to the members of the military as well. 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 only discovered this was happening when women began contacting him, claiming to be in a relationship with him 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 in conjunction with the ruse. A secret stash scam claims that a U.S. soldier has uncovered a huge trove of money or valuables while deployed to an area such as the Middle East. The solider needs the victim’s help getting the treasure out of the country, and he or she is going to split it with the victim in return for their help. This is the kind of crime that 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 recipient of the email did help, they would be complicit. Scammers get around this problem by claiming that getting the money out of the country is a patriotic duty, as it will most likely be used by the enemy to further harm U.S. soldiers. The most important thing a potential victim can do to avoid this scam is ignore the message; if there are soldiers’ names, photos, or other identifying information included, it’s worth reaching out to law enforcement so they can alert the proper channels.
Before deployment, contact your financial institution and companies you do regular business with to let them know the time period you are going to be deployed and to watch your accounts for fraud. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs More Than a Number identity protection program provides information to educate Veterans and their beneficiaries on how to protect themselves from identity theft and a toll-free line for veterans if their information has been compromised. If you or a loved one needs further assistance, the Identity Theft Resource Center is available to assist victims of these types of crimes at no-cost. If you have the financial means, consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who can help save you time monitoring your information and further strengthen your protection. Leading identity protection providers offer services that can sometimes cut through the red-tape as well as having access to resources that may not be available without significant time and effort on your part.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.