The politicians can continue arguing amongst themselves on whether or not we are actually at war. The fact remains there are literally hundreds of thousands of Americans in the military currently deployed overseas. As with any newsworthy trend, this fact has not been lost on the scammers who are always looking for a new way to make a quick buck.
Whether they are posing as servicemen, taking advantage of the soldiers, or preying on the families left behind, these con artists show no remorse when finding new opportunities to separate people from their money.
If you are enlisted, have a family member serving, or just recently met a soldier online, here are some things to keep in mind as we wait for that great day when all our people come back home.
First we look at a couple of potential scams where the con artists pretend to be in the military in an attempt to gain trust and then use that trust against their victims.
VEHICLE SCAM SALES – Earlier this year the FBI put out an alert for folks looking to purchase used automobiles, motorbikes, etc. online. The classic scam consists of potential customers finding great deals on the used vehicles at different Internet advertising or posting sites. The majority of scams involve a phony third-party vehicle protection program presented as a means to guarantee a safe transaction. The victims are told to send either full payment or a large percentage of the payment after receiving very believable emails from the phony protection program. The money is sent directly to the third-party “protection” service and no vehicle is ever delivered.
In the newest twist to this scam, the scammers are now regularly posing as members of the United States military. The con artists claim that are either already overseas or even must sell the vehicle quickly due to their imminent deployment to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The FBI advises consumers to follow through with Due Diligence when purchasing a vehicle via online means. It is important to take the time to verify your seller’s identity and location. If they are unwilling or drag their feet, you are probably getting scammed.
MILITARY DATING SCAM – CJ, a soldier on active duty, shared a new scam on his blog site A Soldier’s Perspective. The scammers troll dating sites that specialize in those looking for love with a member of the military. The con artist plays the part of soldier, starting up a relationship with the lovelorn victim. The scammer creates an entire military life history through emails and online chats. Eventually, the time comes for the two to speak on the phone.
At this point, the con claims that phone service is non-existent at their location in Afghanistan or Iraq and suggests the victim register with a telecommunications company, even providing an email address. Once the victim contacts the company, they will receive a lengthy email explaining all the benefits, including a free satellite phone and unlimited calling that will come with the registration fee of $400.
Of course, there is no telecommunication company. The scammer, who posed as the solider, actually set up the phony email address. After payment is received, all contact with the beloved “soldier” will be lost.
SCAMMING THE SOLDIERS
According to a report published a few years ago by the Rand Corporation, members of the armed services are particularly vulnerable to financial scams. The report, which had been commissioned by the Defense Department, noted that 27% of military personnel have problems with bills as opposed to 18% of the civilian population.
Although the entry level pay is higher than their civilian counterparts, most of those just entering the military are young, 18 to 19, living away from home and making more money than they know what to do with, which often leads to excessive spending and debt. The con artists prey on this, often times with high interest loans with annual percentage rates that are astronomical, like 365%. Here are a few ways they stick it to those defending our country:
PAYDAY LENDING – A quick loan is provided with a promise to have it paid back with high interest on the next payday. Unfortunately, the interest is normally so high, it’s near impossible to cover bills, which requires another payday loan. This begins a cycle that is really tough to break. Many are lobbying Washington for legislation that will control and curb these practices.
CAR SCAMS – Can take the form of yo-yo sales. This is where the dealer approves financing but then backs out after the service member has driven the car away. They ask the soldier to either put down more money or pay a much higher than previously agreed upon interest rate. This causes many more defaults than usual.
Another auto scam involves a used car dealer knowingly financing and selling a vehicle that isn’t in very good condition. The car breaks down, the soldier quits paying and it gets repossessed. At this point the dealer rigs the car just well enough to get it back on the lot and sell it again to the next soldier.
BAD INSURANCE – Many soldiers are sold expensive complete life insurance policies when in actuality all members of the military have low-cost options available to them elsewhere. Often these policies are sold by folks claiming to be former military themselves in order to gain the victim’s trust.
SCAMMING THE FAMILIES
Perhaps the sickest cons of all are those that feed on the families waiting back home for their loved ones to return safe and sound. Their numbers have been increasing with the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
GRANDPARENT SCAM – Navy Times Online recently reported on a disgusting scam that is specifically targeting grandparents of soldiers serving in Iraq, especially those who post on social networks, like Facebook or MySpace, about their grandchild’s deployment.
After gathering enough information by following these online postings, the con artists contact the grandparents. They claim to be coming back home on leave from Iraq and looking to surprise their parents, so ask that their return be kept secret. A week or so later, the phony grandchild reaches out to the grandparents again and claims they are being held up by a broken car and requests money be wired to them.
The FBI office in Kansas City recently issued an alert on this scam, noting that often these crooks take between $3,000 and $4,000 from people who are so excited at the prospect of seeing their love one back home, they are blind to the fact they are being scammed.
RED CROSS SCAM – The American Red Cross issued a warning to military families to be on the lookout for scammers who call claiming to be representing the Red Cross, in reality they are identity thieves.
This sick scam totally preys on the fears of the deployed soldier’s family. The caller, claiming to be from the Red Cross, regretfully informs the family that the soldier in question was wounded in Iraq and has been evacuated to a hospital in Germany. They say that treatment needs to be started immediately, but in order to begin there is outstanding paperwork to be finished.
The scam artist then asks to verify the soldier’s social security number and date of birth. Once they have this information, their con job is done and they can begin opening credit cards and taking out loans in the soldier’s name.
It’s not news that con artists are depraved individuals, but those scammers exploiting the brave men and women who fight for our country are a particularly rotten lot. The best way to fight them is through awareness. So keep sharp and stay safe out there.