SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, in recognition of Veterans Day, issued a consumer alert warning Californians to be aware of scams targeting veterans, servicemembers, and their families. In today’s alert, Attorney General Becerra provides tips and information to help avoid military-targeted scams, and provides tips for Californians who would like to support our veterans and servicemembers through charitable donations.
“Our veterans and servicemembers devote their lives to protecting our country. Yet, despite their sacrifices, they remain one of the commonly targeted groups by scammers and fraudulent charities,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We hope these tips and resources help ensure that our military members do not become the next victim of a targeted scam. Let’s all be vigilant to safeguard those who have done the job of protecting us.”
Common Scams Targeting Veterans and Active Servicemembers
Scammers often target members of the military and their families by pretending to be related to the military, or to a specific service or unit. Additionally, some companies and organizations claim they help servicemembers or veterans, when that is not always the case. Beware of the following scams:
- Identity Theft and Fraud: Some scammers pretend to be from Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, or other official organizations in order to get your personal information so that they can commit identity theft or fraud. Don’t give out any personal information in response to phone calls, emails, or text messages without making sure the request is not a scam. Before you provide any information, always make sure a request is coming from an official organization by checking the internet or a trusted source to get the organization’s real contact information. Never trust the contact information given by the person asking for your personal information, as scammers often give out fake contact information. Be wary of letters and emails that have misspellings, look unprofessional, or send you to a non-government website for information or action, as these are almost always fake. Lastly, never give out your Social Security number to get military or veteran discounts. Scammers often promise military or veteran discounts in order to get personal information.
- In the event that your identity is stolen, put a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three main credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and consider requesting a credit freeze, which will restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Report identity theft and get a recovery plan at https://www.identitytheft.gov/. Additionally, file a police report with your local Sheriff or police department and keep a copy for your records. If you are a servicemember contact your financial readiness or legal assistance office for additional assistance and guidance.
- Debt Collection Threats: Unethical debt collectors often try to illegally trick and scare veterans and servicemembers into making payments on debts. It is important to know that debt collectors cannot revoke your security clearance, contact your command in order to collect a debt (unless they have your consent to do so), discipline or demote you, or garnish your pay unless a court entered a judgment against you. You cannot be court martialed for refusing to pay a disputed debt, and if a debt collector is trying to collect a debt that you don’t owe or have already paid, dispute the debt in writing. For more information on debt collection rights, visit our website here. Report illegal or abusive debt collection to our office at https://oag.ca.gov/report.
- Affinity Fraud: Some scammers count on your trust in fellow servicemembers – and use it against you. Companies may use military-sounding names, military or veterans service organization seals, or other patriotic symbols. They may advertise in military newspapers or magazines, use pictures of servicemembers, or hire salespeople with a military background. Don’t be pressured into buying anything before you have a chance to shop around and do your research. Take a tactical pause - never assume that a company with a military-sounding name, a military discount program, or a salesperson who claims to be a veteran, will give you a good deal, and carefully read all contracts and get all of your questions answered before signing.
If you believe you have been the victim or target of a scam, immediately contact your local police department and file a complaint with our office at http://www.oag.ca.gov/report. For additional information on military-targeted scams, visit our website here.
Be Careful with For-Profit Education
The GI Bill and other military education programs offer veterans and servicemembers the chance to attend school and plan for their future. But oftentimes those who utilize money from these programs to pay for school are targeted by for-profit schools that make false promises. Here are some tips when looking at for-profit schools:
- Watch Out for Aggressive Sales: Be aware that predatory for-profit schools often use high-pressure sales calls to try to get veterans and servicemembers to sign up. Take a tactical pause: take the time you need to make the right decision about your education. Look out for promises about job placement or programs that sound too good to be true – they probably are.
- Compare Schools by Looking at Results for Graduates: Many for-profit schools are not as good as public and non-profit schools at helping students graduate, get jobs, and make money in the future. Always ask for information about the programs – such as graduation rates, job placement, and graduate salary information – as this information will help you compare schools and the programs that they offer. If a school can’t provide this basic information, they could be hiding something.
- Shop Around and Compare Costs Before Making a Decision: Compare costs before making a decision on your education. Oftentimes, for-profit schools cost more than high-quality nonprofit schools or public schools like the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges. Comparing costs when choosing a school could save you from being surprised when you end up having to pay money out of pocket, even if you are using your GI Bill of Tuition Assistance benefits to pay for your education.
If you are victimized by a school file a report with our office by going to https://oag.ca.gov/report. You can also report the school to the Federal Trade Commission by going to https://reportfraud.ftc.gov. For additional tips regarding for-profit education, visit our website here.
Donation Tips for Supporting our Veterans and Servicemembers
On Veteran’s Day, many will choose to support our veterans and servicemembers by making donating to charitable organizations. Here are some tips on how to ensure that your donation goes towards its intended purpose:
- Beware of Fake or Unregistered Charities: Be aware of charities that claim to help veterans or servicemembers, as they may use a real charity’s name, or hire people with a military background to convince you to donate to them. These scam charities may also keep most donations for themselves and only use a little for charitable purposes. Donate to local charities that you know are supportive of veterans. Make sure that the charities have not been subject to enforcement actions, are tax exempt and are registered and listed as current with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Remember – don’t feel pressured into donating before you have a chance to research the organization.
- Ask Questions: Before you donate, make sure you always ask questions. Does the charity provide a clear and solid description of its charitable program? Does it explain how it helps veterans or servicemembers? Does it provide statistics on how many individuals are actually benefiting from its programs and how your donation is going to be used? These are all important questions to ask before making any donation.
- Don’t Feel Pressured to Donate: Charities should be willing to accept your donation whenever you are ready to send it, and should not pressure you into making an immediate donation. Don’t donate to a charity that wants to send someone to pick up your donation, won’t answer your questions or refuses to send you written materials regarding the charity’s programs and finances until after you commit to donate, or threatens you. Simply put, if you feel uncomfortable or pressured to give, don’t.
Complaints against charities can be filed on our website at https://oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints. You can find additional donation tips on our website here.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to working on behalf of our military service members and veterans. Last month, he obtained a judgment against the bogus charity Wounded Warrior Support Group after its directors pocketed the proceeds of charity raffles that were supposed to benefit veterans. The judgment ordered the charity to involuntarily dissolve, ordered the removal of its directors, and prohibits them from operating any charitable corporation, charitable association or charitable trust in the State of California or from operating any raffles or soliciting donations in California. Earlier this year, he joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general in submitting a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opposing its decision to reverse a decades-long policy that allows Veterans Service Organizations 48 hours to review decisions on veteran disability claims. He also filed a letter urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to suspend benefits claims deadlines and debt collection activities during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Last year, he announced the arrests of three individuals for operating a tax fraud and identity theft scheme under the name Go Navy Tax that targeted military servicemembers in San Diego County. In addition, he secured a $1.8 million settlement against a deceptive charity, Help the Vets, Inc., for claiming their charity helped veterans when, in fact, almost none of the funds went towards veteran assistance. Attorney General Becerra also secured more than $16,000 in restitution for victims of illegal financing and debt collection practices by Romano’s Jewelers, whose owners were previously charged and convicted of preying on active-duty military families. Furthermore, he submitted a letter urging the Department of Education to discharge the student loans of tens of thousands of veterans who were disabled as part of their service. The Attorney General’s Office also provides training on military consumer protection to prosecutors and JAG legal assistance attorneys throughout the state.