Avoiding Identity Theft and Fraud

Empowering Service Members for Consumer Protection Week

19_Consumer_ProtectionLast year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 122,519 total reports from military consumers about financial fraud, identity theft, and other scams. That number is up slightly over the previous year, accounting for $96 million in total losses. Many scams specifically target the military community – both active-duty service members and veterans.

National Consumer Protection Week, the FTC’s campaign to raise awareness of these scams, runs from March 3 through 9. Understanding the tactics these scammers use and what kind of information they’re after is the first step in protecting yourself.

BASIC TACTICS

Any time you receive an unsolicited call, you should take extra caution. According to the FTC, scammers often utilize a few basic techniques that you can identify if you stop and think about it:

  • Pretending to represent a trustworthy organization. It’s easy to drop your guard when someone claims to represent an organization like the VA or DoD. Be cautious of their claims, especially if you’re receiving unsolicited contact.
  • Creating a sense of urgency. They may try to rush you into making a decision or disclosing information quickly before you’ve had time to think about it.
  • Using intimidation. Fear is a powerful emotion, and they will often use that to their advantage by making it seem like something terrible will happen if you hesitate or miss out on their offer.
  • Using untraceable money transfers. Be cautious of wire transfer services, reusable gift cards, money orders, and cryptocurrency. These things are commonly used for financial fraud.

SCAMS TARGETING VETS

You know the old saying – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That mantra is extremely relevant when it comes to financial scams that prey on veterans. Here are some commonly reported scams, according to AARP and the FTC.

  • Benefit Buyout: Scammers will offer to buy the rights to future disability or pension payments, typically at a fraction of the long-term value. Veterans who’ve fallen on hard financial times may be particularly susceptible to the idea of a lump payment, but it is not in their best interest to sell the rights to future payments.
  • Secret Benefits: The perpetrator will pretend to be a financial advisor, claiming that the veteran can receive additional benefits or special investment opportunities if they only hand over their sensitive banking information.
  • Fake Charities: Because there’s an emotional aspect of donating to a military-related charity, some fraudsters will create fake charities that sound a lot like real ones and solicit donations that go straight into their own pockets. You should always research the organization before deciding to donate.
  • Charting Money for Records: If you’re a veteran, your records are always available for free through your local VA. Be wary of anyone asking for payment in exchange.
  • VA Verification Scam: Scammers will call pretending to work for the VA, often asking for sensitive information like your Social Security Number in order to update their records. You should not be receiving unsolicited calls from the VA. If this happens to you, hang up and do not provide any personal information.
  • Employment or Loan Scams: Do not pay fees in advance for promises of future compensation – be it in the form of employment, loans, or anything else. You should never have to pay up front for an employment prospect or any kind of financial assistance.

EXTRA SECURITY STEPS

Now that you know how to identify someone trying to take advantage of you, it’s also important to understand that identity theft and fraud can happen with a mere passive involvement as well. Here are a few simple measures you can take to avoid being victimized, even in this world of data breaches:

  • Password Security: Use a unique password for each website you visit, incorporating different words, capitalization, numbers, and special characters. Many websites also offer dual authentication these days – meaning when you sign up, you’ll link an email, a phone number, or both to your account. Then when you log in, the system will automatically send you a temporary security code to use. It may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it will help protect you from fraud.
  • Shredding Documents: Do not throw away or recycle documents that may show your Social Security Number, bank account number, or other sensitive information. Always be sure to have important paperwork shredded. Many banks or your local government may offer this kind of service free of charge.

Lastly, if you see something suspicious, don’t hesitate to report it the FTC or the VA, if applicable. For more information about National Consumer Protection Week, including the week’s key events and how to join the conversation on social media, visit the FTC online.

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