CA AG: Beware of scams targeting the military community and veterans

California Attorney General Rob Bonta is warning the military community, veterans and their families about different types of scams for Military Consumer Month, officials said Monday.

Military consumers lost more than $103 million to scams last year, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission Report.

Moreover, according to a AARP reportveterans and their families are nearly 40% more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population.

“Too often, military service members, veterans and their families are prime targets for fraud,” Bonta said in a press release. “I urge the California military community to be vigilant, know the warning signs, and take steps to protect themselves from scam artists seeking to take advantage of you or illegally access your military benefits…If you see any something suspicious, report it to local law enforcement. Together, we can protect you and your loved ones from these predatory scams.

Here are the common scams targeting military and veterans that Bonta’s office warns about:

Home loan scams

The Attorney General’s Office warns against scammers who, through fraudulent phone calls or mailings, pretend to be from the government, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a home loan officer.

Scammers may try to convince homeowners to accept loan modifications, refinance homes, or make a payment on a loan.

“Beware of anyone or a lender who: contacts you and asks you to pay a fee in advance before receiving services; tells you to cancel your mortgage payment and send the funds elsewhere; tells you to make payments to someone other than your current loan manager; or pressures you to sign documents that you have not had a chance to read carefully or that you do not understand, including asking you to sign the title to your property,” the alert warned.

Officials are warning community members not to give out their personal information to anyone claiming to be a lender or servicer who contacts them out of the blue.

Identity theft and fraud

Authorities have warned that some scammers pretend to be from the US Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs or other official organizations in order to obtain personal information to commit identity theft or fraud.

Officials are warning community members not to give out personal information over phone calls, emails or text messages without ensuring that the request is not part of a scam.

“Before providing information, always make sure a request is from an official organization by doing a quick internet search or consulting a reliable source for the organization’s true contact details,” authorities warn. “Never trust the contact details provided by the person requesting your personal information, as scammers often give false contact details. Beware of letters and emails that are misspelled, look unprofessional, or refer you to a non-government website for information or action, as these are almost always fake. Finally, never give out your Social Security number for military or veteran discounts. Scammers often promise military or veteran discounts in order to obtain personal information.

Retirement scams

Veterans 65 and older may also be targeted by fraudulent financial advisers who attempt to persuade older veterans to purchase expensive annuities or transfer their assets to trusts, or pay unnecessary and illegal fees to obtain help with a veterans pension application.

So-called counselors claim to help veterans qualify for assistance and attendants or other benefits, but may actually cause them to lose eligibility or access to retirement, disability or health care benefits.

Affinity Fraud

Some scammers pose as veterans or military personnel in an effort to appear trustworthy, only to use it against victims.

Companies may use military-sounding names, service organization seals or other patriotic symbols to gain trust, authorities warn. They may also advertise in military publications, use military photos, or hire salespeople with military training. Officials advise community members not to be pressured into buying anything until they have had a chance to shop and/or research.

“Take a tactical break and never assume that a business with a military-sounding name or a military discount program, or a seller claiming to be a veteran, will get you a good deal,” officials advise. “Before signing anything, read the documents carefully and get all your questions answered.”

Rental housing scams

Rental housing scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base.

Scammers may pretend to be real estate agents who post fake listings for rental properties on websites, and sometimes promise military discounts and other incentives in an attempt to trick service members into sending money for fees and deposits in advance. Victims can be deprived of their money and find themselves homeless.

Authorities warn that this type of scam is particularly relevant during the “permanent station change” season.

“If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been viewed, it is likely a rental scam,” officials warn. “Avoid transferring money to book apartments and use your local settlement housing office or established property management companies to locate potential accommodation.”

Predatory auto sales and financing

Car dealerships near military bases may try to lure service members and veterans with promises of special deals, officials warn.

So-called deals can often conceal the terms of the vehicle purchase and cause the victim to overpay for both the vehicle and the cost of financing.

Dealers may insist that victims won’t be eligible for funding unless they buy unnecessary and overpriced add-ons, officials warn. And other times, a dealer may tell a victim who just bought a car that the original financing failed and insist on renegotiating on worse terms.

“You should not rely on oral promises or feel pressured into making a purchase without first reading and understanding the contract.” warn the authorities. “If you are looking to buy a car, you should explore all of your financing options, including contacting your bank or credit union, before making a purchase.”

Report suspicious activity

There are a number of resources and ways to report suspicious activity and scams.

Community members can do so by contacting the Bonta office here and complain to the FTC.

In the event of identity theft, community members can add a fraud alert to their credit report by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experianand Trans Union.

They may also consider applying for a credit freeze, which will restrict access to credit records, making it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in victims’ names. Community members can immediately report identity theft and get a recovery plan here. Additionally, they can file a police report with their local sheriff or police department.

Service members can also contact their home legal office. For legal office contact information, community members can request their order or go here.

California National Guard personnel can get legal help here.

For more information on military scams, visit the AG website here.

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