Scamraiders

Last Friday (July 16, 2010), a Texas paralegal was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for stealing funds intended to assist veterans in their legal needs. This
instance is an arresting example of the ability of con artists to
steal money from organizations that assist those who desperately need
help the most.


According to the Houston Chronicle, the offender “submitted over 500 fraudulent vouchers totaling $134,350.35 for purported business trips from his San
Antonio home. Investigators say he faked client names and social
security numbers to get travel pay”
(http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/7112399.html).
While in this case the offender, Leo G. Alvarado, obtained the
desired money primarily through lying to his company, Texas Rio
Grande Legal Aid, VA scams are fairly prevalent and often target the
veterans and their families.


The San Antonio Express additionally reported that “Alvarado also fabricated VA award letters and claimed to be a VA expert. The VA had no knowledge of
Alvarado or any record showing he assisted any veteran or widow”
(http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/former_paralegal_gets_5...).
This points to the fact that Alvarado could have easily extended his
monetary theft to the veterans themselves, requesting money or
services for his fraudulent expertise regarding the Department of
Veterans Affairs.


Take an example reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009: “Veteran Service Organizations have brought to VA's attention that callers are
misrepresenting the VA to gain personal information over the
phone. They say VA recently changed procedures for
dispensing prescriptions and ask for the Veteran's credit card
number” (
http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1769).
Once the credit card information was procured, the scammers
could easily steal the identity and money of veterans and their loved
ones.


A similar occurrence happened back in 2006, following a data breach at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov)
and the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org)
jointly issued a warning that scammers were using “various
techniques, including email or the telephone, to deceive consumers
into disclosing their credit card numbers, (and) bank account
information”
(http://www.bbb.org/us/article/ftc---vets-delete-unsolicited-offers-...).


Veterans are often targeted by scam artists because of the simple urgency of their need: veterans are willing and eager to comply with the regulations required for
assistance. There are a few things that veterans can do to ensure
that they are not the victims of such scams:


  • If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a representative from the Department of Veterans Affairs wanting personal information (including credit card
    information), do not comply. According to the Department of
    Veterans Affairs, the “VA simply does
    not call Veterans and ask them to disclose personal financial
    information over the phone”
    (
    http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1769).

  • Never click on a link from an unsolicited email, even if supposedly from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Remember, always verify that any communication
    with a government agency official is legitimate.

  • Regularly check the website of the Department of Veterans Affairs for alerts to scams such as the one mentioned above. You can find the website here: http://www.va.gov/.

  • If you need to ask a question, or you need to report a perceived VA-related scam, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs; toll free numbers can be found at:
    https://iris.va.gov/scripts/iris.cfg/php.exe/enduser/cci/phonenbrs.php.


Remember, it’s no crime to ask for help; make sure you are talking to those in the position to do so.

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