It seems so urgent. You receive a call saying your deployed or traveling military member has lost their ID, needs cash, and has asked this trustworthy person to contact you. While you may recognize this to be along the lines of the Nigerian-prince-asking-for-money email, some other scams that hurt military families may be more difficult to spot.
Military members are often young and financially inexperienced, have reliable income, and frequently move around, a combination which may make them and their families seem like easy targets to scammers, especially since it might take them some time to notice an irregularity in a bill or credit report.
Can you spot a would-be scammer? Here are a few to watch out for, as you protect your loved ones, your personal information, and your wallet.
1) Scams Preying on Deployed Families
What it is: Scammers contact the spouse or parents of a deployed service member and pretend to be someone in authority, claiming the military member has been injured/lost their wallet/is held up somewhere traveling. Using the fear that families already feel about their loved one or lack of knowledge about military processes, the scammer hopes family members will give up personal information to “prove who they are” or even cash.
Why it matters/what to do: The military won’t ever contact family members via phone or email asking for personal information or money. Military members won’t need cash from their families to travel to or return from deployment. Don’t let fear compel you to share your personal information with strangers.
2) Rental Scams
What it is: You’re due to PCS in a few months and have decided to start looking at homes online. You come across what seems like the perfect house for your family–a rental decorated with that farmhouse style that would meet Joanna Gaines’ approval, with four bedrooms, amazing upgrades, new appliances, and in the school district you’ve been hoping for…all with amazingly low rent! The kicker? The landlord pushes for a security deposit or money to hold the property before you or a representative can even view the home in person, because “it’s going to go fast.” And you need to send that money, like yesterday. “Hurry!” they press, “I’ve already got someone else looking at it!”
Why it matters/what to do: This sense of false urgency should be a red flag. While it could be legit, it’s possible the person listing the property simply copied it from another listing, isn’t the actual property manager, and is using the compressed military move timetable to try to make a quick, dishonest buck.
Stick with reputable sites or trusted referrals. Better yet, wait until you arrive to tour the home yourself. If that’s impossible, see if you have a friend in the area who can Facetime you while touring the home or hire a MILLIE Scout to do the legwork (the company hires military spouses just for this purpose!). Get more details about online rental scams.
3) Tickets or High-Priced Items at a “Too Good to Be True” Discount
What it is: Crooks hide behind all the goodwill and discounts offered to military by many businesses around Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Putting ads on Craiglist or other sites, sellers offer “great deals” for active duty on everything from tickets for professional sporting events to home goods. The seller, of course, requires money to be wired first to hold the item at this phenomenal price (seeing a pattern here?) and then when the item is to be picked up or transferred, disappears.
Why it matters/what to do: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to well-known business and sites when you see military or veteran deals around holidays, especially for big ticket items like cars or in demand concert or event tickets.
4) Scams Targeting Extended Family
What it is: Along the lines of the scams targeting deployed family members, this one preys on elderly relatives of service members. One scammer contacted a soldier’s 84-year-old grandmother and asked her to wire money in order to assist him, with the caller claiming that her grandson had lost his ID card on his way home from Iraq and couldn’t get home without her help. Thankfully, she realized the request was not legitimate.
Why it matters/what to do: The military doesn’t require funds from family members to transfer wounded back home (another scam) or help with getting ID cards or other belongings. There’s a system in place that would not involve contacting the member’s spouse, parents, grandparents, or anyone else for money. Educated your elderly relatives about how the military handles emergencies and advise them to call authorities if they are contacted by a scammer or suspicious person.
What it is: Recently, I noticed a Facebook friend request from a high ranking service member I’m friends with, who I know is not on social media. I let him know and quickly deleted and reported it, since the photo showed him in uniform in his official photo. His comment about the situation was sad, “It happens all the time.”
Why it matters/what to do: Scammers assume identities of military members in order to befriend, lure, or get money from strangers. With many official military photos online, this is not difficult to do. In fact, over 30,000 military consumers reported identity theft in 2017.
Help protect your identity and those of people you know. Monitor your own social media for obvious duplicate accounts and let friends know if you see a duplicate account of theirs. Use identity theft protection and credit monitoring from reputable providers such as Lifelock or Experian to get real-time notifications of data breaches.
A New Meaning to the Phrase “Trust but Verify”
A couple of good rules to follow: never send money to an unknown entity, no matter how urgently they appeal, and never share your personal information over the phone or by email, even to an “official” sounding person. Family members, double check with the military member’s unit if you receive an urgent call regarding their situation.
As long as there have been phones and the internet, there have been people bent on using it for harm. While it can seem like a losing battle, staying vigilant about your personal information and trusting your gut will go a long way towards protecting yourself. Changing passwords frequently, monitoring your accounts regularly, putting a security freeze on your credit reports to prevent unwanted access to your information, and even not listing your birthdate on social media are some simple ways to thwart the scammers. Deployed members can put an ‘active duty alert’ on their accounts, which will notify businesses to take extra steps before offering credit in their name. For more ideas to protect yourself, see Consumer Report’s “Protect Your Identity.”
If you’ve been the victim of a scam or need to report suspicious activity, get more information from: