OAKLAND – In honor of Military Consumer Month, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert warning military service members, veterans, and their families to be aware of targeted scams and fraud. According to a recent report on consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission, in 2021, military consumers lost over $103 million to scams. Consumer protection is a core element of financial readiness for military families. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta highlights common scams and predatory practices that impact military service members and veterans and provides tips on how to avoid becoming the next target.
“Too often, military service members, veterans, and their families are a prime target for fraud,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In honor of Military Consumer Month, I urge California’s military community to be vigilant, know the warning signs, and take steps to protect against scammers seeking to take advantage of you or unlawfully access your military benefits. Just as you remain committed to our country through your service, the California Department of Justice remains committed to protecting your consumer rights. If you see something suspicious, report it to local law enforcement. Together, we can keep you and your loved ones safe from these predatory scams.”
Why is the Military Community Targeted?
The military community is one of the communities most targeted by perpetrators of scams and fraud. According to a November AARP report, veterans and their families are nearly 40% more likely to lose money to scams and fraud than the civilian population. Protecting personal information, remaining vigilant, and knowing the warning signs are key to ensure protection against fraud. Military service members, veterans, and their families are often targeted for access to their military government benefits. In addition, the camaraderie that unites the military community is often exploited by impostors who claim to be veterans in attempts to access personal information for fraudulent purposes.
Common Scams Targeting the Military Community:
Scammers use a variety of tactics to gain trust. Protect yourself by staying up to date on common military- and veteran-targeted scams. Beware of the following:
- Home Loan Scams: Recently, there has been a jump in scams targeting veterans with home loans. Be aware of scammers that — through phone calls or fraudulent mailers — claim to be affiliated with the government, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or your home loan servicer. These fraudsters may attempt to convince you to agree to loan modifications, refinance your home, or make payments to your loans. Be cautious of any individual or lender that: contacts you and asks you to pay fees upfront before receiving any services; tells you to cancel your mortgage payment and resend the funds elsewhere; tells you to make payments to someone other than your current loan servicer; or pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand — including asking you to sign over the title of your property.
- Reporting Suspicious Activity: Never give out personal information to a lender or servicer that contacts you out of the blue. If you are feeling unsure, hang up and call your loan servicer directly at the number that is listed on your mortgage statement. Report suspicious activity to the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report and file a complaint with the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
- Identity Theft and Fraud: Some scammers will pretend to be from the 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 first 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 doing a quick search on the internet or consulting a trusted source to get the organization’s real contact information. Never trust the contact information given by the person that is 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 receive military or veteran discounts. Scammers often promise military or veteran discounts in order to get personal information.
- Placing a Fraud Alert: If your identity is stolen, put a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Also, consider requesting a credit freeze, which will restrict access to your credit file, making it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Report identity theft right away and get a recovery plan at identitytheft.gov. Additionally, file a police report with your local sheriff or police department and keep a copy for your records.
- Pension Scams: Veterans 65 and over are targeted by financial adviser scammers who try to persuade senior veterans to buy costly annuities or transfer their assets into trusts, or pay unnecessary and illegal fees for help with a veterans pension application. These "advisers" claim to help veterans qualify for Aid and Attendance or other veterans benefits, but may cause you to lose eligibility or access to pension, disability, or healthcare benefits. If you are interested in Aid and Attendance or other veterans benefits, you can get free help from your County Veterans Service Office here.
- Affinity Fraud: Some scammers pose as fellow veterans or service members in order to appear trustworthy — only to use it against you. Companies may use military-sounding names, military or veterans service organization seals, or other patriotic symbols in order to gain your trust. They may also advertise in military newspapers or magazines, use pictures of service members, 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, and never assume that a company with a military-sounding name or a military discount program, or a salesperson who claims to be a veteran, will give you a good deal. Before signing anything, carefully read through the paperwork and get answers to all of your questions.
- Debt Collection and Illegal Threats: Debt collectors may try to trick or scare service members into making payments on debts. It is illegal for debt collectors to do any of the following: revoke your security clearance; contact your command in order to collect a debt (unless they have your consent, given after the debt came due, to do so); discipline or demote you; or garnish your pay. If a debt collector is trying to collect a debt that you do not owe or have already paid, dispute the debt in writing. Tell the debt collector why you do not owe the debt, include copies of any evidence you have, and mail this dispute to the debt collector using registered mail so that you have proof that the collector received it — and make sure to keep copies of everything for yourself. If you dispute the debt within 30 days after the collector first contacted you, the collector must stop collection until it shows you written proof of the debt.
- Rental Housing Scams: These scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base. Scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties on websites, sometimes promising military discounts and other incentives in order to get service members to send them money for fees and deposits upfront — cheating victims of their money and leaving them with no place to live. This type of scam is especially prevalent during the Permanent Change of Station season. If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been seen, it is likely a rental scam. Avoid wiring money to reserve apartments, and use your installation housing office or established property management companies to locate potential housing.
- Predatory Auto Sales and Financing: Car dealers located near military bases may try to lure service members with promises of special deals for military personnel. Often, these so-called deals conceal the terms of purchase for the vehicle and result in the service member drastically overpaying for both the vehicle and the cost of financing. For example, dealers may insist that military personnel will not qualify for financing unless they purchase overpriced and unnecessary add-ons. Other times, the dealer may tell a service member who just got a car that the initial financing fell through and insist on renegotiating for far worse terms. You should not rely on oral promises nor feel pressured to enter into any purchase without first reading and understanding the contract. If you are looking to purchase a car, you should explore all of your options for financing, including by contacting your bank or credit union, before making a purchase.
If you believe you have been the victim or target of a scam, immediately contact your local police department. If you are a service member, please also reach out to your base legal office. For the legal office’s contact information, ask your command or go to legalassistance.law.af.mil/. California National Guard personnel can also get legal help at www.calguard.ca.gov. You may also file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report. For additional information on military-targeted scams, visit our website here.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to protecting service members, veterans, and their families:
- In July 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced a more than $15 million settlement with Harris Jewelers for violations of state and federal consumer protection laws. The settlement resolved allegations that Harris Jewelers targeted military service members with dishonest sales and financing tactics at now-shuttered stores located near military bases across the country.
- In March 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced his sponsorship of Senate Bill 1311, which will extend additional legal and financial protections for active duty and reserve component service members and their families. This legislation was developed following the Attorney General’s July 2021 meeting with members of Naval Base San Diego where DOJ highlighted common scams and predatory practices that impact our nation’s heroes and provided tips on how to avoid becoming the next target.
- On Veteran’s Day 2021, Attorney General Bonta issued a consumer alert warning veterans and their families to be aware of targeted scams and fraud.
- In November 2021, Attorney General Bonta highlighted important consumer protections for active duty service members stationed in California. Additionally, Attorney General Bonta announced the publication of a new “know your rights” tips sheet that was made available to military personnel and installations across the state.
- In June of 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced Paul Flanagan was sentenced to 357 days of house arrest and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution for defrauding thousands of U.S. Navy sailors in San Diego County through a tax and insurance scheme.