Service members and their families make many sacrifices for their country. However, there’s one sacrifice they don’t expect: being a target for scammers.
Unfortunately, aspects of a service member’s job often make them more vulnerable to scams. Perhaps most importantly, they have a guaranteed and steady income that scammers would love to have access to. They are also frequently deployed and move around often, which makes staying on top of red flags in bills and credit reports more difficult. Additionally, new service members are often young and financially inexperienced, and these qualities may attract scammers. Despite the stereotype of the elderly scam victim, millennials are actually the most likely to lose money to scams.
Individuals who self-identified as being active-duty military personnel, veterans or military spouses represented 8.5% of reports to BBB Scam Tracker in 2016. These individuals may be more susceptible when exposed to a scam, with 21.0% reporting losses, compared to 18.6% of non-military individuals. More striking is the median loss of $350, nearly 35% higher than the non-military median loss of $260.
The BBB Risk Index measures risk by exposure (how likely you are to be targeted), susceptibility (your odds of losing money when exposed), and monetary loss (if you do lose money, how big the losses will be).
According to the BBB Risk Index, these are the top three riskiest scams for military families and veterans.
- Fake check/money order. In this con, you’ll be paid with a legitimate-looking check, only to have it bounce later on! Fake check scams frequently involve an overpayment, where the check amount is “accidentally” far more than the amount agreed to. Then, you’re asked to wire back the difference. Funds will be available soon after depositing a check, but forgeries can take weeks to be discovered. By then, the scammer is gone and so is your money! Learn more about avoiding fake check scams here, and at org/fakecheckscam.
- Travel/vacations. Scammers attempt to trick vacationers out of their money by advertising too-good-to-be-true properties that either aren’t actually for rent, don’t exist, or don’t look like the pictures. Vacationers are told they need to act now to reserve the property and are lured in to paying a large deposit. Watch out for timeshare resale cons as well – don’t pay an upfront fee to a “reselling agent”. If you’re asked to wire money or pay with a prepaid card, watch out! Once you send the money, you won’t be able to get it back. Visit org/travelscam to learn more.
- Tax Collection. Fraudsters call you pretending to be from the IRS and claim you owe back taxes. They threaten arrest and use other scare tactics to trick you out of your money. In another version, scammers claim they are issuing tax refunds and will ask you for personal information under the guise of transferring a refund. This information can later be used for identity theft. Even if the call originates from DC, watch out – scammers can spoof caller IDs. If you’re worried that you do owe taxes, check at gov. Never wire money, pay with a prepaid debit card, pay with gift cards, or pay anyone other than the US Treasury for taxes. Read more about the tax scam here and at bbb.org/taxscam.
BBB Institute of Marketplace Trust runs the BBB Military Line program to help military families and veterans avoid scams and fraud. BBB Military Line is tailored to military consumers and their families and provides consumer education resources both online and through local outreach. To learn more, visit bbb.org/military.
If you or someone that you know has been affected by a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker to warn others. You never know, your report could help save someone a lot of money and prevent a big headache.