CONSUMER FORUM

Watch out for the scammers poaching veterans’ pensions

Posted March 03, 2013, at 9:46 a.m.
Last modified March 03, 2013, at 11:27 a.m.

Consumer watchdogs are warning veterans and their families of scam attempts centered on pensions. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning recently about one scheme urging veterans over age 65 to convert their assets to a trust or to put their money in insurance products.

The pitch is that veterans who do so can qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits; those payments cover expenses for veterans and family members who need in-home care. The FTC warns that the transactions might mean the veteran loses eligibility for Medicaid services or that their money could be tied up for an extended period of time.

And, in spite of the scammers’ claim that they’re offering “free” advice and help with paperwork, they charge victims hundreds or even thousands of dollars while ripping them off.

Here’s how the scheme works. Unscrupulous lawyers and financial planners visit long-term residential facilities, senior centers and other places to make their pitches. They might offer lunch or snacks or claim to be veterans to gain others’ confidence. They will almost always turn on the high-pressure tactics to get you to put your money into a trust or buy an annuity (and the more they sell, the higher their commission).

The FTC reminds veterans that it’s free to apply for benefits. If you need help, check with the Veterans Administration; the agency has accredited professionals to assist those who need help. While the VA does not endorse financial products or plans, accreditation is a good starting point.

You can also check with agencies that regulate various professions:

• Insurance agents: Maine Bureau of Insurance can tell you if the seller is licensed.

• Financial planners: The National Association of Personal Financial Planners can give you names of planners who work on a fee-for-service basis, rather than on commission based on what you buy.

• Lawyers: Check with the Maine State Bar Association to see if a lawyer is licensed or if charges of ethical violations have been filed.

Nonmilitary folks may be targets as well, and they could be living anywhere. A Web search for investment help by U.S. citizens living abroad turned up this bit of verbiage: “We have a great experience in this field because pension transfer specialists are into ourfolds (sic) for providing you the best tips for pension investment in the home country.” Such awkward grammar is often a sign of a scam attempt.

Whether you’re a veteran or not, the best defense against someone who offers to poach your pension to “get you a better deal” is a firm “no, thanks.” Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw noted recently that “safe investing” resources for all Maine families are available on the Office of Securities’ website, www.investors.maine.gov, or by calling 1-877-624-8551 (TTY: Please call Maine Relay 711).

Shaw added, “To avoid investment fraud and invest as safely as possible, investors should make a rule to always check the credentials of any investment adviser or broker before entrusting money to them.” To file a complaint with the FTC, visit the agency’s online “complaint assistant,” www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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