California Attorney General Rob Bonta is warning the military community, veterans and their families of different kinds of scams for Military Consumer Month, officials said Monday.
Military consumers lost over $103 million to scams last year, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission report.
Additionally, according to an AARP report, veterans and their families are nearly 40% more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population.
“Too often, military service members, veterans, and their families are a prime target for fraud,” Bonta said in a news release. “I urge California’s military community to be vigilant, know the warning signs, and take steps to protect against scammers seeking to take advantage of you or unlawfully access your military benefits … If you see something suspicious, report it to local law enforcement. Together, we can keep you and your loved ones safe from these predatory scams.”
Here are the common military and veteran-targeted scams Bonta’s office is warning about:
Home loan scams
The Attorney General’s Office warns of scammers that, through phone calls or fraudulent mailers, claim to be a part of the government, the Department of Veterans Affairs or a home loan servicer.
The scammers may try to convince homeowners to agree to loan modifications, refinancing homes or make a payment to a loan.
“Be cautious of any individual or lender that: contacts you and asks you to pay fees upfront before receiving any services; tells you to cancel your mortgage payment and resend the funds elsewhere; tells you to make payments to someone other than your current loan servicer; or pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand — including asking you to sign over the title of your property,” the alert warned.
Officials warn community members not to give out their personal information to a person claiming to be a lender or servicer that contacts them out of the blue.
Identity theft and fraud
Authorities warned that some scammers pretend to be from the U.S. Department of Defense, Veterans affairs or other official organizations as a way to get personal information to commit identity theft or fraud.
Officials warn community members not to give out any personal information during phone calls, in emails or text messages without making sure the request is not part of a scam.
“Before you provide any information, always make sure a request is coming from an official organization by doing a quick search on the internet or consulting a trusted source to get the organization’s real contact information,” authorities warn. “Never trust the contact information given by the person that is asking for your personal information, as scammers often give out fake contact information. Be wary of letters and emails that have misspellings, look unprofessional, or send you to a non-government website for information or action, as these are almost always fake. Lastly, never give out your Social Security number to receive military or veteran discounts. Scammers often promise military or veteran discounts in order to get personal information.”
Veterans who are 65 and over can also be targeted by financial adviser scammers who try to persuade older veterans to buy costly annuities or transfer their assets into trusts, or pay unnecessary and illegal fees for help with a veterans pension application.
The supposed advisers claim to help veterans qualify for aid and attendants or other benefits, but may actually cause them to lose eligibility or access to pension, disability or healthcare benefits.
Some fraudsters pose as fellow veterans or service members in an attempt to appear trustworthy, only to eventually use it against victims.
Companies may use military-sounding names, service organization seals or other patriotic symbols to gain trust, authorities warn. They may also advertise in military publications, use pictures of service members or hire salespeople with military backgrounds. Officials advise community members not to be pressured into buying anything before they’ve had a chance to shop around and/or do research.
“Take a tactical pause, and never assume that a company with a military-sounding name or a military discount program, or a salesperson who claims to be a veteran, will give you a good deal,” officials advise. “Before signing anything, carefully read through the paperwork and get answers to all of your questions.”
Rental housing scams
Rental housing scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base.
Scammers may pretend to be real estate agents who post fake ads for rental properties on websites, and sometimes promise military discounts and other incentives in an effort to get service members to send money for fees and deposits upfront. Victims may be cheated out of their money and left without a place to live.
Authorities warn that this type of scam is especially relevant during the “permanent change of station” season.
“If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been seen, it is likely a rental scam,” officials warn. “Avoid wiring money to reserve apartments, and use your installation housing office or established property management companies to locate potential housing.”
Predatory auto sales and financing
Car dealers located near military bases may try to lure service members and veterans with promises of special deals, officials warn.
The so-called deals can often conceal the terms of purchase for the vehicle and result in the victim overpaying for both the vehicle and the cost of financing.
Dealers may insist that victims will not qualify for financing unless they purchase overpriced and unnecessary add-ons, officials warn. And other times, a dealer may tell a victim who just got a car that the initial financing fell through and insist on renegotiating for worse terms.
“You should not rely on oral promises nor feel pressured to enter into any purchase without first reading and understanding the contract.” authorities warn. “If you are looking to purchase a car, you should explore all of your options for financing, including by contacting your bank or credit union, before making a purchase.”
Reporting suspicious activity
There are a number of resources and ways to report suspicious activity and scams.
They can also consider requesting a credit freeze, which will restrict access to credit files, making it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in victims’ name. Community members can report identity theft right away and get a recovery plan here. Additionally, they can file a police report with their local sheriff or police department.
Service members can also reach out to their base legal office. For the legal office’s contact information, community members can ask their command or go here.
California National Guard personnel can get legal help here.
For additional information on military-targeted scams, visit the AG’s website here.
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