Bank and lender scams, romance scams, employment scams, benefits scams, identity theft scams.
Active-duty service members and veterans have consistently been a target for scam artists, losing nearly $405 million to fraudulent schemes since 2012, according to a new report that analyzed data from the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau.
In terms of who sustained the most substantial losses, active-duty personnel and veterans of the U.S. Army were hardest hit, conned nearly 577,000 times since 2012 to the tune of over $142 million. The Army, of course, is the largest branch. The rest of the service-specific scams were counted as:
- Navy – 143,718 scams totaling $62,542,897
- Air Force – 110,448 scams totaling $44,257,654
- Marine Corps – 57,204 scams totaling $24,976,528
- Coast Guard – 10,817 scams totaling $4,772,422
Bank and lender scams wreaked the most havoc, with military members and their families losing nearly $112 million over the aforementioned timeframe. The bulk of that total was plundered in 2014 through the infamous Rome Finance — or SmartBuy — scandal that bilked service members out of $92 million through deceptive finance arrangements that sold high-priced electronics with hidden interest rates running as high as 200 percent — horrendous rates even for a “We finance E-1 and above” auto dealer.
The most common schemes over the last seven years have been the fraudulent employment variety, the report said, which generally targeted newly discharged veterans looking for that much-desired first job as a civilian.
In these scenarios scammers notify the target that they’ve been selected for employment, often with claims of having found the veteran on a popular job board, such as LinkedIn. Once “hired,” the veteran is instructed to purchase work equipment through a website secretly operated by the fraudsters. The scammers then inform the vet that he or she will be receiving a check to reimburse the amount spent on the nonexistent equipment — it bounces, of course.
Identity theft was another highlighted medium for scamming military personnel, as were advance-fee scams. (Nigerian princes be damned!)
One of the more bizarre approaches, meanwhile, has been to defraud service members through romance schemes, including one that actually involved imprisoned convicts.
An Army investigation known as “Operation Surprise Party” discovered an alleged “sextortion” scheme that revealed prisoners had been posing as women on dating applications. Eventually, conversations on the dating apps would transition to text messaging, which would lead to the swapping of nude images.
But shortly after exchanging photos, the unsuspecting soldier would allegedly receive a text from another phone number belonging to a different prisoner who would then pose as the fictional girl’s father. The “father” would then notify the soldier that the female in question is under the age of 18.
Ensuing threats of going to law enforcement unless the service member sent money would often result in the young soldier caving to the pressure, fearing the repercussions of unknowingly soliciting what they were told was child pornography.
The creative methods don’t stop there. A recent analysis of vehicle scams preying on service members signaled an even deeper layer of wallet-slaughter.
A scamming group that labels itself, “Exchange Inc." has been attempting, with some success, to defraud service members into purchasing used vehicles online that don’t actually exist, according to an August 2019 report by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
“For years, scammers have used the Exchange’s trademarked logo and name without permission to purportedly sell vehicles in the United States,” Steve Boyd, the Exchange’s loss prevention vice president, said in the release.
“Some military members have sent money thinking they’re dealing with the Exchange, only to receive nothing in return.”
Exchange stores on military installations, the only brick and mortar locations in which actual military exchanges operate, are not authorized to sell vehicles. Additionally, the real Exchange never conducts private transactions or posts on resale websites.
The report paints a grim picture of what fiscal responsibility looks like among active-duty military personnel and veterans.
In all, researchers discovered 996,700 individuals have been victimized by fraudulent schemes since 2012.
Just remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Just close your browser and walk away.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.