Military Consumer Month

Defending Yourself Against Fraud and Scams

CPTJuly is the Month of the Military Consumer, which provides a unique opportunity to discuss some key financial issues facing service members, veterans and their families. It’s an initiative driven by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), focused on promoting financial literacy and providing military families with the tools and information they need to make smart decisions and avoid getting involved in scams. 

While there are certainly factors outside of your control when it comes to financial security – like hacking or other third-party data breaches – there are also lots of things you can do as a consumer to protect yourself from exploitation and keep your private information safe.

Some of these things may be common sense reminders; others, however, are easy traps to fall into without even realizing it. 

BASIC CYBER SECURITY

First and foremost, any time you’re entering sensitive information on a website, always make sure it’s legitimate. Check the URL carefully to make sure you’re on the correct website. This applies to everything from personal banking to e-commerce to social media. A common scam known as phishing involves emulating the look and feel of specific websites to trick users into entering their login credentials – or, worse, personal information like Social Security number or their bank account information – which can then be used to steal your identity or money.

Secondly, encryption is a best practice for any modern website containing sensitive information. You can tell whether a website is encrypted very easily by checking the address bar in your web browser. Encrypted sites use a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to protect your information, which is indicated by the “s” in “https” in the address. Most browsers will also indicate a site is secure with a lock icon, green font or some other indicator. You can also check for security badges from reputable third-party companies like Norton™ or TRUSTe™. 

Lastly, make sure you use unique passwords, PINs and answers to security questions. You should avoid using the same login information for multiple websites. Think of it as a master key – if it’s stolen from one place, it unlocks all the other associated accounts. You should also change your passwords regularly and always use two-step verification when available. And finally, try to avoid using anything obvious for your PIN, like your SSN, date of birth or your name.

FINANCIAL SCAMS

While it may not be possible to avoid crossing paths with every shady character with malicious intent, you can still protect yourself by being prepared, knowing what they’re after, and having a plan in place to prevent them from getting to your information.

  • Used car sales can be problematic in many ways, especially in the private sector. From odometer fraud to stolen deposits, there are many different reasons to approach car sales with extreme caution. The Department of Motor Vehicles has an excellent list of related scams.
  • Certain car dealerships can be just as tricky. Make sure you avoid “buy here, pay here” lots specifically. While not explicitly a scam, these kinds of dealerships frequently exploit service members with poor credit by selling overpriced cars at outrageous interest rates to people who can’t afford them.
  • Personal loans can help you build your credit as long as you’re dealing with a responsible, reputable company, so make sure you know how to choose a lender. Avoid applying with any company that promises guaranteed approval with no credit check. It may not always seem like it, but credit checks are in your best interest as a consumer.
  • Fake debt collectors play dirty and will use every trick in the book to get you to pay off fraudulent debt. If you ever get a call from a debt collector you think is trying to scam you, ask them for a validation notice that says how much money you owe. Make sure it’s an authentic document from a real company before paying a dime. If they ever threaten you with jail time, hang up the phone and report them report them to the FTC.

MILITARY-SPECIFIC SCAMS

It seems like new scams targeting the military community pop up somewhat regularly. You may hear about them in the news, but many go unannounced. The key to protecting yourself is to be cautious and always question people who are trying to get something out of you, like personal information or money.

  • Social engineering refers to psychological manipulation with the intent to extract sensitive personal information. There are many different scams that utilize this strategy.
  • Deployment scams are among the most common. Say you’re overseas on deployment and your family member gets a phone call saying you’re trying to make it home, but you’ve lost your wallet and ID. They then ask your loved one to wire money so you can get home. Of course the military pays for your deployment travel and this scenario would never be true, but a family member who doesn’t know any better may try to help out of the kindness of their heart, not knowing they’re being ripped off. 
  • Similar scams may involve fake injuries, nonexistent charities or people pretending to represent the Department of Veteran Affairs. Always question the credentials and motives of someone who contacts you asking for money or personal information.

Looking for more tactics to protect yourself as a consumer? You can visit Military.Consumer.gov for more helpful tips, tools and resources to avoid getting ripped off.

Jake Butler

About the author: Jake Butler

Jake Butler is a staff writer at Pioneer Services who understands the challenges facing modern military families. He writes informative and entertaining pieces about military life, financial education and everything in between. Follow Jake on Google+.

Contact: Jake Butler

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