“Nearly every day we read about Veterans who have been swindled out of their savings,” claimed an Iowa newspaper.[i] Within the span of a single year, scams aimed at military Veterans were exposed across North America. Authorities uncovered Veteran-centered schemes from California[ii] to Indiana[iii] and to the East Coast. These scams even spilled over international lines, reaching victims like Elmer Lloyd — a 30-year-old Canadian Veteran — who was approached by a self-proclaimed representative of a Boston law firm with the news he had inherited $100,000. Fortunately for Mr. Lloyd (and his savings account), by the time he decided to pursue this inheritance, the “lawyer” had left town.[iv]
And unfortunately, this tactic of targeting Veterans is far from new. Everything mentioned in the paragraph above did not occur in 2018. Or even 2008.
The year was 1946. The target of the scammers was the savings and discharge pay of thousands of WWII Veterans returning home from Europe and the Pacific.
Veteran scams today
Swindlers and con-artists have a long history of targeting soldiers, often leveraging the Veteran’s sense of duty and loyalty to fellow Veterans. But while preying on Veterans is not a new development, the frequency we’re seeing in America today is perhaps unprecedented. One source in 1946 claimed Veterans were responsible for one in five complaints of fraud to authorities.[v] Today, according to a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center Veterans are victimized by scam artists twice as often as the rest of the public. Further, the Fraud Watch Network’s recent survey showed 16 percent of U.S. Veterans have lost money to fraudsters, compared to 8 percent of no-Veterans. And 80 percent of Veterans surveyed said they have encountered scams directed specifically to Veterans.
“Unfortunately, the men and women who bravely served our country have become a prime target of telephone and online thieves,” said AARP chief executive officer Jo Ann Jenkins. “While Veterans are bombarded by the same scam pitches we all receive, our research found that they’re also under special attack by a number of additional scams tailored just for them.”
One obvious advantage the scammer of 2018 has over the swindler of 1946 is the technology that allows cons to operate remotely and anonymously to reach a much larger range of targets. Our advancements in communication have added countless opportunities to the scammer’s malicious motives. These are criminals who, opposite the military Veteran, have no sense of honor. They are ruthless, and they do not hesitate to steal from our national heroes and rob their families of the financial security they fought so hard to secure. But we can defeat them by arming Veterans with knowledge of the scammers’ tactics and spreading the word about new scams.
Our response: the best offense
In the current Internet age, where scammers are increasingly difficult to locate and arrest, consumer awareness and prevention is the best weapon we have to combat these schemes.
For that purpose, the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service have partnered in the launch of Operation Protect Veterans — a national campaign to warn those who have served in the military about scams and fraud schemes that target Veterans. Together, we aim to expose these frauds and counter the increasing assault on our Veterans.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our Veterans from scammers who continuously prey upon them for their own illicit gains,” said Guy Cottrell, chief postal inspector. “We will continue in our fraud prevention efforts to inform Veterans about scam artists who fraudulently utilize advances in technology and tailor their pitches towards them.”
The Postal Inspection Service and AARP are warning all Americans who have served in the military to look out for the following Veteran-tailored scams:
- The benefits buyout offer. Scammers take advantage of Veterans in need by offering a quick upfront buyout, usually at a fraction of the value, of future disability or pension payments.
- The fake charitable giving request. Scammers make fraudulent claims about charitable giving that benefits Veterans or wounded service members.
- Fraudulent records offer. Scammers try to charge Veterans a fee to access military records or government forms, information that is actually available for free through the National Archives (for military records) and VA.gov or local VA offices (for forms)
- The VA phishing scam. Scammers posing as VA employees call Veterans to “phish” for Social Security numbers and personal financial information, which they use to access bank accounts and/or open fake credit card accounts.
- The bogus employment scam. Scammers post fake job descriptions to collect personal information from a Veteran’s job application, or they charge an employment fee.
These scammers are a devious, diabolical enemy. They know which heart strings to pull in order to get what they want, which is always the same thing: your money, or your personal information. Veterans, and all Americans, should be suspicious of any phone call or email requesting you send or transfer money or asking for personal information of any kind (e.g., Social Security number, address, etc.).
Don’t give it to them. Research and verify all offers and claims. And if they persist or make financial threats, just remember: in the battle against this kind of criminal, the surest tactic for victory may be to simply hang up or press “delete.”
If you or a loved one has encountered a financial scam in the last 12 months, please help us keep fighting for our Veterans by calling 877-908-3360.
About the author: Inspector Carroll Harris has over 27 years of government service with 14 years as a federal agent. Harris joined the United States Marine Corps in 1990 where he has served over 10 years of active duty to include overseas combat deployment. He actively continues his military service in the Marine Corps Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel at Quantico, VA.
About the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the oldest federal law enforcement organization, tracing its roots to Benjamin Franklin. As one of the largest employers of Veterans, USPS and the Inspection Service take personally any attack on our Veterans. Learn more about the Inspection Service on Facebook, Twitter and at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
[i] Council Bluffs Nonpareil. “Traps for Veterans.” Council Bluffs, IA. April 12, 1946, pg. 6.
[ii] Wilmington Daily Press Journal. “Victimized Vets Band Together.” Wilmington, CA. September 7, 1946, pg. 1.
[iii] The Indianapolis Star. “Attorney Denies Veterans Housing Swindle Charge.” Indianapolis, IN. June 4, 1946, pg. 8.
[iv] The Winnipeg Tribune. “Veteran Escapes Swindle Attempt.” Winnipeg, MB, Canada. May 15, 1946, pg. 7.
[v] Council Bluffs Nonpareil, 1946.