Top Five Risky Scams for Service Members, Veterans and Families

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Can you imagine going through bootcamp, then specialized weapons training, then your specific trade school for your new job in the military, then being sent to your brand-new duty station somewhere in the United States, or even oversees and you don’t know anyone? That’s often the reality for our young service members as well as with older and retired troops and their families.

The horrifying truth is they are also among some of the likeliest consumers taken advantage of by fraudsters and scammers. Think about it, you move to your new duty station and if you were a young Marine like myself once upon a time you don’t have your friends, parents, or Aunt Sally to advise you, “go here to buy a car…talk to so and so to get a couch…this guy is great at repairs to your apartment.”

There are four states where the number of veterans as a share of the adult population exceeds 10%: Alaska, Montana, Virginia, and Wyoming. With the exception of Montana, each of those states is home to one of America’s largest military cities. According to Housing Assistance Council 68,145 veterans live in Alaska, and 21,895 active duty and reserves still serving. Total veterans and active duty/reserve military living in the state is 90,040. And that’s not counting their families. With a 2018 state population sitting at 737,438 it’s obvious the military presence in Alaska is significant.

Service members, veterans, and their families are common targets for fraud, with a median reported loss of $200 last year—32% higher than the general population.We know how much you give to your country and want to help you keep your hard-earned money safe. That’s why we cracked open the data books to identify the top five riskiest scams you need to know about.

Better Business Bureau receives thousands of reports per year from active-duty service members, military families, and veterans through our crowd-sourced scam reporting tool, Scam Tracker. We then applied the BBB Risk Index, which measures risk according to exposure, likelihood of losing money, and median monetary loss. This gives us a better sense of which scams not only take the biggest financial toll on military consumers, but also which kind of scams will most likely result in a loss. Here are the top five most risky scams from lowest to highest risk as reported in our Military Consumers & Marketplace Trust report this year:

5. Fake Check/Money Order Scams

With the increased use of credit cards and other forms of digital payment, it’s easy to forget how checks actually work and how to tell if a check is fraudulent. Scammers take advantage of this in several ways. One strategy fraudsters use is to overpay you for a product or service with a check. The scammer will tell you to just send him or her the difference by wire transfer—and maybe even let you keep a few extra bucks for your trouble. Remember: a check may “clear” in your account, but you are still responsible for the funds—even if it turns out to be fake weeks later. Be immediately suspicious of overpayments, and don’t wire or send money to someone you do not know.

4. Tech Support Scams

A warning pops up on your screen with the dreaded words: You Have Been Infected. Immediately, the panic sets in: you need to keep in touch with family and loved ones and prevent all your valuable files and information from being lost forever. A phone number appears on the screen, or you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a well-known tech support company. No matter how much the screen is flashing, or how loud the warning is blasting on your computer—try to stay calm. Scammers use fear to lower your defenses and lure you out of hundreds of dollars. Immediately shut down your device and reboot. Do not give control of your device to a third party that contacts you. Instead, reach out directly to a local business or online service provider you trust.

3. Online Purchase Scams

Nearly three out of every four military consumers reporting an online purchase scam told us they lost money to a fraudster. Between frequent moves and changing financial situations, families are buying and selling more items online—and falling into common scammer traps. No matter where you’re stationed, purchase items from reputable retailers with a verifiable physical address and a secure website. If you’re selling your items or purchasing them from individuals, use reputable online marketplace sites and apps that offer protections, so your transaction is safer and more secure.

2. Home Improvement Scams

When you’re new in town, it can be hard to know who to trust with your home repairs. Sixty percent of military consumers who reported a home improvement scam lost money, which is significantly higher than the 53% across all consumer types. No matter how trustworthy someone may seem at your door, you should always verify their credentials. Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, payments made upfront, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections.

1. Employment Scams

By a landslide, the riskiest scam for military spouses and veterans is employment scams; the median dollars reported lost was $2,460— more than double that reported across all consumers. Whether you’re looking for a flexible opportunity close to home or hoping to secure your first civilian job, it can be difficult to identify if an opportunity is made for you or just plain made up.

For more tips and how you can protect yourself from would be fraudsters and scammers go to bbb.org

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