As you return from a deployment overseas, your family and friends are not the only ones waiting for you. Scam artists are also busy setting up store fronts, phone lines and websites specifically targeting service members.
How the government can help you and your family
As a service member, you are a unique target for financial scam artists. As a service member, you deal with extended time away from home on deployments and frequent moves that can make it harder for you to identify scams with your focus on missions. Additionally, you have a steady income and are held to a higher standard for debt repayment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In short, you are a perfect target for these scam artists.
Agencies across the federal government are working together to fight fraud aimed at service members and veterans. The Department of Justice is working to ensure that businesses respect the rights of service members and join forces with federal prosecutors, state prosecutors and the Judge Advocate General Corps to identify scammers and bring cases against them. The Department of Justice also partners with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, to identify potential fraud early. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Servicemember Affairs provides information and assistance to service members to help learn about available resources for planning your financial future and protecting your finances.
Tips to protect you and your family
While these federal agencies are committed to using all of their tools to hold these scam artists responsible, the best way to fight them is to deprive them of customers. Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself and your family:
- Be wary of up-front fees. Scammers often say that they can help you access your benefits or get a good interest rate on a loan if you provide them an upfront fee. If you encounter this, remember that the military offers legal assistance, interest-free emergency loans and financial planning tools. Ask your military installation offices for details.
- Always find out what the total price is. Scammers hide the true cost of a product through numerous installment payments. They can offer misleading information about how much something really costs once all the payments and fees are added up. If the total price is too high, take your business elsewhere.
- Don't trust promises about the future. Some scammers will promise changes to the terms of the loan that will occur in the future. Before handing over any money, make sure that everyone agrees to the final terms of a deal.
- Find out with whom you are dealing. Some scam artists will portray themselves as something they are not in order to get your business. They‘ll say something like, "I'm a veteran of the armed forces," to try to gain your trust. If you are worried about validity of the salesperson, ask your installation community service office about the company or individual. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau.
- Be wary of house calls and telemarketers. If an individual comes to your door or calls your house promising assistance with accessing your Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, you should be wary of the validity of their service. The VA doesn't generally make house calls, and it doesn't participate in telemarketing. These scammers are not at your door to provide a public service or reward you for your military service. They want your personal information and access to your financial accounts. Information and access to all your VA benefits are available online through the Department of Veterans Affairs. All military personnel and veterans can register for access to a variety of information to help you understand your business.
Getting help as a victim of financial fraud
If you have been the victim of a scam, come forward and complain. Often, victims of financial fraud don't report the crime because they feel a sense of doubt about their own judgment, betrayal and fears about how their family members, friends and business associates will react. Some victims feel their losses are not large enough to report, do not want to get involved, think law enforcement agencies will not take the crime seriously or think nothing will result from reporting the crime. But only when you complain is it possible for you to get the help you need.
Only when crime is known can law enforcement agencies work to stop it. If you believe you have been the victim of a financial fraud scheme, consult your military installation legal assistance office or your state attorney general and log your complaint at Federal Trade Commission's Complaint Assistant or at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau's Submit a Complaint. You can read more about financial fraud and identity theft on Military OneSource and find out what you can do to protect yourself financially.