Memorial Day is a time to honor those who lost their lives for our country.
Unfortunately, it is also a time to be on the lookout for schemes that target our serving military with a patriotic or military approach.
In 2021, active duty military members reported losing significantly more money ($300) than military spouses ($170) or veterans ($220). While the percentages of military spouses and veterans who said they lost money when exposed to a scam were nearly identical to the percentage of the general population (around 48%), the sensitivity of military on active duty was approximately 42% higher according to the 2021 Better Risk Report from the Office of Business Affairs.
Here are highlights of the scams BBB typically finds directed at service members:
– High priced military loans. Ads for loans that promise a guarantee, instant approval, or no credit check 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’ benefit buy-back schemes. 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. These buyout plans can be structured in a number of different ways, so do your research thoroughly before signing on to anything.
– False 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 by bank transfer for security payments or a key to the property – in the end, they will receive nothing.
– Misleading car sales. Websites running classified ads offer fake military discounts or claim to be from military members who need to sell their vehicle quickly since deployment. An initial charge will be required by bank transfer, otherwise the vehicle will have problems after purchase.
– Expensive life insurance policies. Military members are often the target of high-pressure sales pitches that offer unnecessary and expensive life insurance policies. Lawyers can misrepresent the benefits of these policies.
BBB offers the following tips to avoid scams:
– Do your research. Get as much information as possible about a business or charity before you pay or donate. A good start to research would be to visit bbb.org and see if BBB has a report on the company or charity.
– Never transfer money to someone you don’t know. Money sent by wire transfer is virtually impossible to track. Pay or donate by credit card whenever possible, as you can dispute charges more easily.
– Protect your computer. Do not click on links in unsolicited emails. Do not enter personal information on unknown websites. Make sure you have up-to-date anti-virus software installed and use a firewall at all times.
– Put an Active Duty alert on your credit reports upon deployment. This will minimize the risk of identity theft, as creditors and businesses cannot issue or extend credit until they verify identity.
Tips before making a charitable donation:
– Get the exact name of the charity. There are more than 28,000 veterans and military service organizations in the United States. Make sure the one you are asking for is the one you have in mind. Mistaken identity is a common problem.
– Beware of undue pressure to donate. Honest charities will not push to make a donation decision on the spot. Donors always have the choice to learn more about the charity so they can give with confidence.
– Check the website for the basics. Information about the charity’s mission, programs, and finances should be readily available on its website. Look for a report on Give.org.
– Find out if the charity meets BBB Charity standards. Look for a report on BBB’s Give.org, the website of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
– Check with state government officials. In about 40 states, charities are required to register to solicit, usually with the office of the attorney general or the secretary of state. Keep in mind that registration with any state agency does not constitute or imply the endorsement or recommendation of that state.
BBB’s Military Line provides free resources, such as financial literacy information, access to BBB services, scam alerts, and complaint and dispute resolution for all branches of the US military.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga