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By Allison Videtti
After all of the sacrifices our military veterans have made, it’s hard to believe anyone would want to take advantage of them. But such scammers exist, and they’ve concocted some pretty elaborate schemes in order to separate our servicemen and women from their money.
Whether you’re a vet, are still serving in the military, or are a family member of someone who is, be on the lookout for these scams:
It’s not just vets who are targets of phishing scams. Active military members and their families are also targeted. Some scammers reach out to vets via email or phone, asking them to confirm personal information — like their Social Security number and date of birth — to continue receiving benefits or to qualify for a certain benefit. Others target the men and women still serving in the military via email, claiming they need to verify their personal information because a bank or credit account has been compromised.
Some scammers are even low enough to prey on military families’ fear. The Red Cross has reported a scam in which a person calls a military spouse claiming to be from the Red Cross. The person tells the spouse that his or her husband/wife has been injured overseas and has been medically evacuated to Germany for treatment. But before treatment can begin, the spouse must verify the soldier’s Social Security number and date of birth. Once the scammer gets the information, he or she can use it to open financial and other accounts.
Fact: The Red Cross would never contact the family of a wounded soldier — the Defense Department would contact the family directly should there ever be a health issue. Military personnel and their families should not give out sensitive personal information over the phone.
There are financial “advisors” out there who claim that they’re able to get vets extra benefits if they only invest in certain products. Often, these advisors set up shop at a community center, nursing home or assisted living facility where they know they’ll be able to target older vets. The advisor will suggest that the vet transfer his or her assets into a trust that contains investments that are not recommended for an older retiree. These investments will be lucrative for the advisor, but will leave the vet broke. Sometimes, vets will be conned into investing their pensions in insurance products so they can qualify for Enhanced Pension and Aid Attendance (A&A), which supplements military pensions. What these vets don’t know is that the transaction could make them ineligible for Medicaid, and they could lose access to their money for a long time.
In other cases, the advisor will simply take the money and run.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these advisors are often lawyers, insurance agents or financial planners with ill intentions, and their offers almost always involve A&A.
That benefit is only available under certain circumstances – the vet must be over 65; eligible for a military pension; fall under an income threshold and need help with daily living tasks like feeding, bathing and dressing; be incapacitated mentally or physically, have severely limited eyesight, or be confined to a bed or nursing home. It’s not granted automatically, and anyone who claims to be able to help a vet who doesn’t meet the criteria obtain A&A is trying to scam him or her.
Fact: There’s no need for vets to rely on unscrupulous financial advisors. Every state has a securities regulatory office, and vets are encouraged to check their financial advisor’s record there. If someone claims to be a Certified Financial Planner®, their record should be available on the CFP® board’s website. If it’s not, that’s a red flag.
Some scammers offer to help veterans with things like filing for pensions or getting military records, in exchange for an up-front fee. The problem? People who are accredited to help vets cannot charge for their services, and many of the things they’re charging for can be done for free by the vet on his or her own.
Many of these scams start online, where websites offer to help vets get their records for a small fee of $1 or so. Once the vet hands over his or her credit card info, they’re told to contact their local records center or benefits office, and the scammer charges much more than $1 for the “service.” Some vets have reported being charged around $20 — for nothing.
Fact: Vets can obtain their military records by visiting the National Archives website, and can apply for a Veterans pension by filling out VA Form 21-527EZ and mailing it to their local regional benefit office.
Sources: AARP.org, Benefits.VA.gov, Military.com, Bankrate.com, PCWorld.com, StopFraud.gov
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