On this day when we honor veterans, we should also take a few minutes to warn them: There are crooks who are not above conning retired service people if they think they can make a buck in the process.
Perhaps most common are the charity imitators. Their names and sales pitches are designed to make you think they have veterans’ best interests at heart; what they’re really all about is making money. Patriotic and military symbols cover their Web pages and mailings, and the words “veterans,” “foundation,” “military families” and “assistance” are used in their names.
Few of the dollars they rake in actually assist veterans. If you make a donation, make it to an organization you know is legitimate. Do research on websites like Guidestar ( www.guidestar.org) and Charity Navigator ( www.charitynavigator.org) to tell the good from the ghastly. The Department of Defense doesn’t endorse any charities, but does recommend the website http://www.militaryonesource.mil/ as a source of information.
One of the nastiest schemes around is an annuity scam. The retirement group AARP warns of investment advisers who may prey on veterans. These advisers usually ask to see a veteran’s investment portfolio; they might suggest putting large sums into trusts so that it appears they have fewer total assets and might qualify for an additional pension. There’s no guarantee of more pension funds, and money tied up in long-term annuities might not bring returns for 10 years or more.
Another common scam is charging for records that are really free. Con artists use all sorts of tricks to convince a veteran that their help is crucial in getting certain records, when in fact all the veteran has to do is ask. Contact the VA or your service unit if you need copies of your records.
Crooks might also call pretending to be a VA representative. When they start asking for personal or financial information, you know they’re phishing — trying to get data to steal your identity.
The Nigerian scam has been around for many years. Many perpetrators target veterans, with callers claiming that they have money or valuables they need help smuggling out of the country. A twist on the theme has the caller posing as a service person, who has stumbled onto a treasure that needs to come stateside. Don’t wire money in response to such solicitations.
One of our favorite scheme watching organizations ( www.scambusters.org) is warning about ads for “special deals” for military people. The deals may not be special at all; they may even be for nonexistent products or services.
Scam Busters also warns of a number of phony selling schemes. Door-to-door salespeople may pose as veterans, claiming to be raising money for veterans’ groups. Online ads may claim to be from service people being transferred, asking for money to be wired for the sale of cars or household items. There may be nothing for sale when your wired funds disappear.
In Cleveland, a trial is under way of a man accused of fraud, theft and money laundering in connection with the operation of a group called U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Prosecutors allege the charity raised more than $100 million nationwide, but gave little help to veterans.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.