Postal service leaders are warning veterans to be wary of a new round of financial scams targeting their families by promising quicker coronavirus vaccines and extra money for virus-related medical care.
Officials from Operation Protect Veterans — a joint effort from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and AARP that is focused on scams directed at veterans and military members — said they have seen an increase in recent weeks in the number of illicit offers for veterans to “cut in the vaccination line” if they provide cash to third-party groups.
The group also warned of scammers offering “cash payments or other incentives around obtaining a COVID vaccination.”
VA officials will reimburse veterans for vaccine costs through the department's Foreign Medical Program, but not help them find vaccine appointments.
Thanks to legislation approved last month by Congress, all veterans, their spouses and caregivers are eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines through the Department of Veterans Affairs free of cost. Timing and availability of those shots depends on local supplies.
But officials have emphasized that individuals do not need to pay to receive a dose, and outside groups promising quicker delivery in exchange for cash are taking advantage of confused or frustrated veterans.
“In addition to many of the same scams fraudsters use to target veterans, we’re now seeing more ‘timely’ scams, like those related to COVID,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale in a statement.
“And as May is Military Appreciation Month, it’s a great time for everyone to become informed and spread the word about scams targeting veterans in order to, in some small way, help repay the tremendous debt we all owe those who have served.”
An AARP survey from 2017 found that veterans are twice as likely to be victims of scammers as the general public, with about one in six veterans reporting losing money to a fake offer of benefits or assistance.
Military Times spoke with two troops who have been on duty battling the COVID-19 pandemic since spring 2020 to chart the course of the Guard's response through their eyes.
Postal service officials warn all veterans not to give out personal information over the phone to strangers, especially bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.
They also said any veteran with questions about an unsolicited offer or program should check out the deal with a family member, friend, or local Veterans Affairs office. Callers who demand veterans act immediately on such a transaction are like scammers.
More information on scams and protections for veterans is available at the Postal Inspection Service web site.