Image: phone with Vietnam Veteran hat. Text: Veterans answered the call to serve. Now scammers are calling.

AARP and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Team Up for ‘Operation Protect Veterans’

New Research Finds Military Veterans Victimized by Scams Twice as Often as Nonveterans

The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service today jointly announced 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.

With a new AARP survey showing that veterans are frequently targeted by scam artists and victimized twice as often as the rest of the public, the goal of the Operation Protect Veterans education campaign is to leverage the extensive reach and communications capabilities of the two national organizations to help veterans avoid losing money to con artists.

“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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the Fraud Watch Network’s recent survey 16 percent of U.S. veterans have lost money to fraudsters, as compared to 8 percent of nonveterans. Veterans also report that they are targeted by a large number of scams directly related to their military service or the veterans’ benefits they receive.  Eighty percent of the veterans surveyed said they have encountered veteran-specific scams.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protect 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.”

In addition to showing how deliberate targeting may be leading to higher victimization rates among veterans, the survey also explored how veteran scam victims differ from the general public.  For instance, veteran scam victims say they are more likely to trust a person who has previously served in the military.  And victims say they are more likely to donate to charities that support our service members and veterans.

“To a savvy con-artist, stolen valor can be an extremely effective tool,” said AARP’s lead fraud researcher, Douglas Shadel, Ph.D.  “We’ve heard from a number of former and current scam artists who tell us they specifically target vets with false claims of military service brotherhood, or that they know patriotism among vets can be a powerful window in to their hearts and wallets.”

AARP and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are warning veterans and their families to be on the lookout for some of the most common schemes and scams directed at veterans, including:

  • Benefits buyout scam: Scammers offer an upfront payment of cash in exchange for a veteran’s future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit.
  • Investment/pension scam: Unscrupulous investment advisers claim the veteran may be able to claim additional government benefits by overhauling their investment holdings. Get credible information on how to qualify for veterans’ benefits by contacting your state veterans’ affairs agency. Visit www.nasdva.us and click on “Links.”
  • Veterans Choice Program scam: Scammers have set up a phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to find out if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the VA system. Veterans call the fake number and a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. They debit your account, and the vet gets nothing in return. Make sure to dial the correct number for the VCP: 866-606-8198.
  • Charging for records: A scammer attempts to charge for access to a veteran’s military records or government forms. Never pay for your records: all information is free through your local VA.
  • VA phishing: Scammers call veterans claiming they work for the VA and ask for personal information to update their records. If you get an unsolicited call from the VA, hang up.
  • Employment scams: Con artists post bogus job offers to recruit veterans on various online job boards. The scammer may use or sell your personal information provided in the job application. It’s likely a scam if you have to pay to get the job, you need to supply credit card or banking information, or the ad is for “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs.
  • GI Bill education marketing scam: Veterans seeking to take advantage of the GI Bill for college courses may be targets of deceptive marketing tactics that provide false information and encourage them to attend expensive for-profit educational institutions. The VA offers a comparison tool to help you locate a school and determine your benefits. Visit www.vets.gov/education/gi-bill.
  • Special deals for veterans scam: Scammers offer special discounts for veterans on a range of products, like loans and car purchases. Often, the products aren’t discounted at all, or they don’t actually exist. Check out offers carefully, and never wire money to someone you don’t know.
  • Rental scam: A scammer posts a fake rental property on a classified ad website offering discounts for active duty military and veterans. You just need to wire transfer a security deposit to the landlord. Only there is no rental property and you just lost your security deposit.

To raise scam awareness among veterans and their families, Operation Protect Veterans is utilizing advertising, social media, email messages, brochures, mass mailings and a new website, www.aarp.org/ProtectVeterans.  The Fraud Watch Network has also produced a Veterans edition of its popular Watchdog Alert Handbook.  In a major component of the outreach campaign, printed materials will be distributed in many of the nation’s 37,000 Post Offices and AARP’s state offices.

Download the Watchdog Alert Handbook Below

AARP’s membership includes 6.5 million veterans and the U.S. Postal Service is the nation’s largest employer of veterans, with 113,000 of its workers having served in the military.y mornings.

Among other key findings of the Fraud Watch Network survey, Under Fire: Military Veterans and Consumer Fraud in the United States: Veterans who became scam victims were more likely to have had a “negative life event,” such as having suffered a serious injury or illness, struggled with mental health or addiction issues, or accumulated a significant amount of debt or suffered a large financial loss.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network was launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages.  The website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, fun educational quizzes, and video presentations featuring renowned security expert Frank Abagnale.  Users may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver breaking scam information, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling.

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Learn more about how scammers target military veterans by reading AARP’s report Under Fire: Military Veterans and Consumer Fraud.

If you’re a veteran who’s been contacted by a scammer or know someone else who has been, share your story at protectveterans@aarp.org or 1-855-800-9023.

Survey Methodology
The survey was administered between Oct. 17 and Oct. 31, 2017, to a total of 1,355 people: 610 US military veterans and 593 nonveterans using NORC’s Amerispeak Internet Panel, and an additional 152 US military veterans who lost money to consumer fraud, using a sample from SSI, another online survey firm.  A more complete description of the methodology can be found in Appendix A of the survey report.