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BBB Scam Alert: Beware of fake charities and scams targeting members of the military

better business bureauMemorial Day is a time to honor those who serve and remember those who have given their life while serving. But sadly, it has also become an opportunity for scammers to target those serving or who have served their nation, especially elderly veterans.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Western Virginia urges consumers and donors to be aware of deals that seem too-good-to-be-true and fake charities. BBB offers services and resources to active-duty service members, veterans, and reservists from all branches of the armed forces to prevent scams.

Companies and businesses across the nation take this opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of military personnel and their families, often offering discounts or deals that target members of the U.S. armed forces with patriotic messaging.

Unfortunately, scammers also take advantage of this time of the year by targeting the same audience, using a patriotic approach to appeal to potential victims. In 2020, active-duty service members lost more than $190,000 to scammers across the United States, according to reports generated by BBB Scam Tracker. Veterans across the nation were impacted to an even greater degree, with over $270,000 lost to fraudulent business practices. While most money was lost to online purchase scams, employment, COVID-19, and phishing scams were also prevalent. Additionally, 49% of scam victims were over the age of 55.

Consumers should also be aware of misleading military charities that often adopt similar names and outreach practices as trusted nonprofits such as email, direct mail, phone calls, and texts. These military organizations use emotionally appealing words to fill their fundraising pitches like “warriors,” “heroes,” and “disabled.” In 2019, the FTC shut down American Veterans Foundation, which raised nearly $6.5 million from donors that were told their contributions provided care packages and other aid for deployed troops and homeless veterans. Instead, the foundation used 92 percent of the money it raised for telemarketing and administrative costs.

“When you donate to a charity stating they represent military personnel, always check Give.org to see that the organization meets BBB charity standards, especially around Memorial Day,” said Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia.  “Solicitors that fail to meet BBB standards often call and say they help veterans, service members, or their families, but little of the money donated will serve that purpose.”

To protect America’s service members and consumers, BBB offers a list of common scams targeting military members, scam prevention, advice about donating, BBB programs, and resources for scam prevention for active-duty personnel, veterans, and their families.

BBB warns of the following scams that are typically directed at service members

  • High-priced military loans: Advertisements for loans that promise a guarantee, instant approval, or no credit check will often come with hidden fees and extremely high-interest rates. Remember that legitimate lenders will never guarantee a loan before you apply, and loans that require an upfront fee are likely a scam.
  • Veterans’ benefits buyout plans: This buyout plan will offer a cash payment in exchange for a disabled veteran’s future benefits or pension payments. The cash amount is only about 30-40% of what the veteran is entitled to receive. These buyout plans can be structured in several different ways, so research thoroughly before signing anything over.
  • Fake rental properties: Stolen photos of legitimate rental properties are used in advertisements that promise military discounts and other incentives. Service members will have to pay a fee via wire transfer for security payments or a key to the property – in the end, they will receive nothing.
  • Misleading car sales: Websites posting classified ads will offer false discounts for military personnel or claim to be from soldiers who need to sell their vehicle fast since they have been deployed. Upfront fees will be required via wire transfer or the car will have problems after purchase.
  • Expensive life insurance policies: Members of the military are often the targets of high-pressured sales pitches that offer unnecessary, expensive life insurance policies. Solicitors may make false statements regarding the benefits that these policies provide.

Tips to avoid scams

To avoid scams targeting military members and the general public this Memorial Day, BBB recommends consumers follow these guidelines:

  • Do your research: Get as much information as possible about a business or charity before you pay or donate. An excellent start to your search would be to check out a business’ BBB Business Profile and see if BBB has a report on the charity.
  • Never wire transfer money to anyone you don’t know:  Money sent via wire transfer is practically impossible to track. Pay or donate by credit card whenever possible since you can dispute charges more easily.
  • Protect your computer: Don’t click on the links within unsolicited emails. Don’t enter personal information on unfamiliar websites. Make sure that you have updated anti-virus software installed and use a firewall at all times.
  • Put an Active-Duty alert on your credit reports when deployed: Doing so will minimize the risk of identity theft because creditors and businesses cannot issue or grant credit until verifying identity.

Tips before making a charitable donation

  • Get the charity’s exact name: With so many charities in existence, mistaken identity is a common problem.
  • Avoid heart-wrenching appeals: It is not a wise choice to make a high-pressure decision. You always have the option to ask for information about an organization and whether to donate.
  • Check the website for basics: A charity’s mission, program, and finances should be easily accessible on its website. If not, check for a report at Give.org.
  • Find out if the charity meets BBB Charity Standards: Check for a report at the website of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
  • Check with state government officials: Most states require charities to register to solicit with their office of the attorney general or the secretary of state.

Resources

As members of the military return to civilian life and re-enter the workforce, they face unique difficulties. Some veterans find challenges in applying for education benefits, navigating disability claims, or searching for employment.

Finding trustworthy sources is the best way to avoid scams. BBB recommends beginning with these organizations:

  • BBB Military and Veteran Consumer InformationBBB Military and Veteran Consumer Information offer free consumer education and financial literacy resources for military families and veterans.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). VA.gov, the official website for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is a hub for materials on every aspect that may impact the transition to civilian life. Information on education benefits, pensions, and life insurance can all be found on the Veterans Affairs official website.
  • Veteran Employment Services Office (VESO)VESO offers career opportunity resources within the Department of Veterans Affairs, assisting in transitioning from active duty to civilian life.
  • USA Military Assistance. Like the V.A., USA Military Assistance guides a wide variety of areas. For those on active duty, military tax guidance and free credit monitoring can also be found at usa.gov/Military-Assistance.
  • Veterans Health Administration. An extension of the V.A., the Veterans Health Administration is a health care system specifically for veterans. The administration also offers resources for veterans during the COVID-19 crisis.

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