In honor of Veterans Day, the Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York is spreading awareness about how fraud affects the military and veteran community—and how to fight back.
Scammers may target military members and their families because of their steady incomes, frequent relocations, and extended absences from home. In 2018, 9.4% of all BBB ScamTrackerSM reports came from military personnel, veterans, or their spouses. Scam victims in the military community also reported higher median losses than non-military consumers.
“Military members and their families have unique challenges to face, and deception by scammers shouldn’t be one of them,” says Claire Rosenzweig, President & CEO of BBB Serving Metropolitan New York. “Unfortunately, as fraud report patterns have shown, unscrupulous people are seeking to exploit military families and veterans for profit.”
“Pension poaching” is a nationwide scam targeting elderly and disabled veterans and their families. Unethical financial planners, insurance agents, or other entities may claim they can help apply for Veterans Affairs benefits programs, sometimes charging large advance fees. In reality, poachers may be trying to get veterans to shift their assets in an attempt to gain benefits they can’t qualify for, allowing the poacher to profit at the veteran’s expense. Pension poaching victims may suffer loss of income, harm to their credit scores, and even loss of Medicaid eligibility.
New legislation in New York could help make these scams tougher to perpetrate. The Pension Poaching Prevention Act was signed into New York State law on August 23, 2019 and takes effect 120 days after that date. This bill prohibits receiving compensation for helping veterans and their families prepare claims for benefits services that an entity is not authorized to provide, with very limited exceptions. It also prohibits dishonest tactics common to veterans’ pension poachers, such as charging unreasonable fees for services or guaranteeing specific amounts of benefits money.
New York State Division of Veterans' Services and their local Veterans Service Agencies can provide free advisory services regarding Veterans' benefits. Veteran families are advised to consider using these no-cost services instead of working with people or companies who want to charge for help with applications.
On top of paying careful attention to your pension and who manages it, watch out for these twists on common scams that pose extra risks to the military and veteran community.
Employment scams were by far the riskiest fraud variety for military members and their families last year. Although all consumers are vulnerable to employment scams, military consumers reported more than twice the median monetary loss from this scam type than victims in the general population. BBB Metro New York tips on identifying and avoiding job scams are available here.
The second highest reported risk was home improvement scams, with military consumers reporting significantly higher susceptibility and monetary losses than consumers at large. Consumers should research businesses carefully before hiring a contractor to work on your home. BBB tips on hiring a contractor can be viewed here.
Debt collection and loan scams may start with unsolicited callers demanding debt repayments or offering too-good-to-be-true debt management solutions. Federal law prohibits such debt collectors from misrepresenting facts about a debt or using threats and harassment, and debt relief companies are not allowed to charge advance fees by phone without taking specific steps to address the debt first. The New York State Department of Consumer Protection has tips and facts for military families on these and other types of scams affecting military and veteran families.
This Veterans Day, use these tips to help protect friends and loved ones in veteran and military families:
- See the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust report on Military Consumers and Marketplace Trust for insights about common scams affecting veteran and military consumers and how to avoid them.
- Don’t pay for copies of your military records, or for advice about claiming veterans’ benefits. You can get access to records and services for free through your local Veterans Administration office and New York State Division of Veterans’ Services.
- Communication can be a key factor in stopping scams. Reach out to people in your support network for input before making financial decisions.
- Be suspicious of lenders or financial consultants who may contact you on an unsolicited basis, try to charge you advance fees, or pressure you to take out loans or move assets into financial products that they manage.
- Don’t wire money to people you don’t know or give out sensitive information over the phone or online to strangers.
- Check BBB Charity Reports on veterans’ charities at www.give.org before donating. Information about charities registered to solicit donations in New York State is also available from the Charities Bureau at www.charitiesnys.com.
- Review Business Profiles at BBB.org and search other online consumer feedback to see what a company’s track record looks like before doing business.
- Report fraudulent calls and suspected scam offers to the FCC and the BBB ScamTrackerSM.