Highlights tips for Californians who wish to support veterans through donations
OAKLAND – On Veterans Day, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert warning veterans and their families to be aware of targeted scams and fraud. A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) highlights that just last year, veterans suffered a total loss of $66 million due to fraud. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta provides tips and information to help veterans guard against scams, and highlights steps that Californians can take to safely support our veterans through charitable donations.
“Scammers and fraudsters frequently target veterans and those looking to support veterans charities,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today, and all days, we recognize the sacrifices and contributions that veterans and their families have made. As part of our efforts to protect those that have protected us, we are issuing today’s consumer alert with tips on how to avoid common scams that target our nation’s heroes and those looking to support veterans charities.”
Common Scams Targeting Veterans
Whether it is a scammer pretending to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a shady company that uses veterans service organization seals in order to gain your trust, protect yourself by staying up to date on common veteran-targeted scams and fraud. 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 via untraceable money orders or gift cards. 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.
- 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 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 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 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 advisers persuading them to buy costly annuities or transfer their assets into trusts, or to pay unnecessary 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 them to lose eligibility or access to pension or health benefits. Only the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can award benefits. If you are interested in Aid and Attendance benefits, 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, 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 contracts and paperwork, and get answers to all of your questions.
If you believe you have been the victim or target of a scam, immediately contact your local police department and file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report. For additional information on veteran-targeted scams, visit our website here.
Donation Tips for Supporting our Veterans
On Veterans Day, many will support our veterans by 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: Do your research before donating to charities that claim to help veterans, as they may use a real charity’s name, or hire people with a military background to convince you to donate to them. Scam charities may also keep most donations for themselves and use very little towards 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 by using the Registry Verification Search tool. Remember – don’t feel pressured into donating before you have a chance to research the organization.
- Ask Questions: Before you donate, make sure to ask questions. Does the charity provide a clear and solid description of its charitable program? Does it explain how it helps veterans? Does it provide statistics on how many individuals are actually benefiting from its programs and how your donation will be used? These are all important questions to ask before donating.
- 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 contribution. Don’t donate to a charity that wants to send someone to pick up your donation, won’t answer your questions, 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, you shouldn’t.
Complaints against charities can be filed with the Office of the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts at https://oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints. You can find additional donation tips on our website here.