Nearly everyone in the U.S. is at risk of falling victim to online scams, but unfortunately, veterans and active duty service members experience cybercrime at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts. Despite the sacrifices they’ve made for our nation, lawless scammers see veterans’ hard-earned benefits as a target for their schemes.
According to the VA, fraudsters stole $257 million from service members and veterans in 2021 through identity theft, pension poaching, job and education scams, and more. Data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicates that military scam victims lose an average of 20% more money than non-military victims.
As fraudsters become smarter and their scams more frequent, it’s important to understand how to protect yourself and your family from online scams targeting your VA benefits. Read on to learn more about what types of VA scams to look out for, and what you can do to avoid them.
In this article about veterans and cyber security:
Common types of veteran scams and how to avoid them
From stealing VA benefits to charging for free military documents, there’s really no line scam artists won’t cross. While there are potentially dozens of ways a fraudster might target a veteran, below are examples of some of the most common veteran cyber scams.
1. Imposter scams
An imposter scammer may reach out to a veteran they suspect is receiving military benefits pretending to be a friend, family member, government agency, or even a charity. Sometimes, these skilled thieves use email addresses, contact information, and language in their online communication that make it appear as if the communication is coming from a credible company or individual.
If posing as a loved one, imposters may reach out claiming to have an urgent financial need, like a rent payment to avoid eviction, or bail money for a relative who’s been sent to jail. An imposter scammer will often try to manipulate the veteran by preying on their emotions or sense of responsibility.
When pretending to be a government agency, military charity, or business, an impersonator may request sensitive personal information such as your bank account information or social security number.
Don’t send money to anyone asking you to transfer or wire money using Western Union, MoneyGram, cryptocurrency, or by loading funds onto a gift card. Imposter scammers prefer these types of payments because they are hard to trace and even harder to reverse.
Be wary of emails from any government agency, charity, or bank asking for money – especially if they sound threatening. Legitimate organizations will not use threatening or manipulative language.
Check the email or online communication for misspelled words, as this is often a red flag. Reputable businesses will generally not make these kinds of mistakes. You can also check the email domain of the individual or company contacting you. Credible organizations are rarely using emails with public domains like gmail.com or yahoo.com.
If you suspect an impersonator is posing as a relative or friend, call or text them using the number you have saved in your phone contacts for them to ask if they recently contacted you. If someone claims to be from a business or other organization, look for the phone number online and call to check if they attempted to contact you.
Do not send sensitive personal information via email, unless the correspondence is between you and a trusted attorney or organization with which you have an established relationship.
Lastly, don’t click on links to documents or forms you weren’t expecting. Links that don’t start with https:// are oftentimes unsafe. The “s” in the URL means the website is secure, and your data is encrypted, or protected.
Likewise, links littered with lots of random letters and numbers, and shortened links that reveal a longer link when you hover over them with your cursor are also bad signs. If you are still unsure, you can use Google’s URL checker to see if a link has been flagged as unsafe.
2. Charging for free services like military records or VA benefit filings
Generally, basic military and medical record information is provided free of charge to veterans, their next of kin, and authorized representatives, as long as the veteran was discharged 62 years ago or less.
Sometimes, companies will advertise “research services,” and charge fees to obtain copies of military records. You should not pay for these documents. Unless you are a veteran or family member seeking military records from more than 62 years ago, this is a free service provided by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Similarly, there are also unaccredited VA agents and scammers who claim to help veterans file VA claims and appeals for a higher disability rating. These agents, who often call themselves coaches or consultants, charge veterans a fee to file claims, and may even request a veteran’s log-in information to their VA eBenefits account. This tactic is usually a way for these unaccredited agents to keep track of how much VA disability the veteran is receiving in order to illegally charge the vet a percentage of their future payments.
Unaccredited agents may even offer eBooks or other informational packets to veterans at a fee. The content of these resources is almost always information that can be found elsewhere on the internet for free.
If you need access to military records, you can request them from the National Archives and Records Administration or the VA. You can also get them through milConnect, a self-service website which gives you access to records kept in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
If you need information on how to file a VA claim or appeal, how different VA processes work, or service-connected disabilities, ratings, and payment schedules, there are plenty of resources available for free on the VA’s website, other VA disability blogs, and Youtube channels.
When seeking help with your VA claim or appeal, find an accredited VA attorney, claims agent, or veterans service organization (VSO) through the VA’s accreditation search. Accredited agencies will never charge you to prepare, present, or file claims, as it is illegal to do so.
Finally, do not share your eBenefits account information with anyone, and change your password frequently. According to VA disability lawyer Neil Woods, asking veterans for their eBenefits account information is also illegal.
“They cannot do that. … They want to go in and look at your rating decisions, because if you don’t provide them with the rating decision, they don’t know what it is. If you never send them a rating decision, they’re never sure of what to actually charge you. So, they try to use these illegal methods like getting into your eBenefits account,” said Woods.
Unlike unaccredited consultants, accredited attorneys will never charge veterans a percentage of their future disability payments.
I’m self-employed and someone gave them a 1 star because they don’t help people who are trying to get a claim that are employed! They took my info down and passed it on to a partner firm that is going to help me with my case. Thank you W&W for helping me and pointing me in the right direction!!!
3. Higher education veteran scams
Education benefits from the VA can help veterans and their loved ones pay for college and training programs to further their careers. Because of this, however, veterans are often the target of deceptive recruiting practices from educational institutions.
Sometimes, fake colleges and institutions will use predatory practices to convince veterans to enroll in programs that are unaccredited or do not provide any transferable skills or credits. These “schools” may also claim to offer veteran-specific scholarships in exchange for a fee, and the veteran, in turn, never receives the promised award.
There are other education scams like institutions promising immediate student loan or debt forgiveness if veterans enroll in classes.
If you’re interested in furthering your education, instead of using a link you may be sent via email, use the WEAMS Institution Search Tool from the VA to find G.I. Bill approved schools. You can also use the G.I. Bill Comparison Tool to compare benefits you’ll receive from different institutions, or search for schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps eligible veterans and their family members pay for school costs not covered by the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
4. Veteran job scams
Scam artists and fraudulent companies may create job boards advertising jobs targeted toward specific demographics including veterans. These jobs often claim to be urgently hiring and request sensitive personal information to apply. The recruiter may ask for fees upfront to cover training or equipment costs, and they will likely request the money be sent via wire transfer. They will probably offer you a high-paying job with attractive benefits – all before meeting you in person.
A good rule of thumb when determining if a job offer is legitimate is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re suspicious a job offer is a scam, verify the legitimacy of the company by contacting them directly before sending money or making any commitments. Do not send your social security number or credit card information to job recruiters who request upfront fees or want to hire you before meeting in person.
One more quick way to spot a possible scam is by checking job offer emails for spelling errors, email addresses that don’t contain the company’s name, or other inconsistencies.
5. Veteran housing scams
It can be difficult to find a house or apartment to rent or buy within a specific budget, especially for military families rushing to relocate after being given orders to permanently change stations. Unfortunately, scammers know this.
Housing scammers may create fake listings for rental properties through websites such as Craigslist. The listings are usually in reputable areas or neighborhoods for abnormally low prices. Sometimes the scammer will justify the low prices by claiming they’re offering a military discount.
Once someone expresses interest in one of these fraudulent rental properties, the scammer may ask for rent or deposit money via wire transfer in exchange for keys. Once the money is sent, the keys never arrive, or worse, the renter finds out the property is occupied or even nonexistent.
Just like with phony job postings, if a rental listing you see online seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Do your research. Look up average rental rates for the area and research the property before committing. You can also check for duplicate listings and find the name of the property’s deed holder.
It’s best to stay away from property listings you see on platforms like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Though not infallible, companies like Zillow and Apartments.com are more likely to spot and remove suspicious listings.
Lastly, don’t provide your social security number upfront. You should only provide this information when absolutely necessary, and after meeting with the property manager in person and confirming the offer is legitimate.
What to do if you believe you’ve been scammed
If you do happen to fall victim to an online scam, there are steps you can take to stop it in its tracks and help prevent it from happening in the future.
Make sure to cease all contact with the possible scammer and save as much information you can about the person you spoke with in case you decide to take legal action. If you provided the scammer with financial information, you should contact your bank or financial institution immediately. If you provided other personal information such as a social security number, you may be at risk for identity theft. Report this to the Federal Trade Commission as soon as possible.
Woods and Woods and cyber security
At Woods and Woods, we take cyber security and your privacy seriously. We do everything we can to protect the sensitive personal and medical information you send. Ways we do this include regular mandatory staff training, extensive software meant to protect against cyber attacks and malware breaches, and the use of multi-factor authentication tools.
However, there are other ways you can help us protect your private information:
- Use fax, mail, or your case manager’s work email address to send documents. Please refrain from sending sensitive information via social media posts or direct messages.
- When emailing your information and records, always carefully check the address field to make sure you are sending your emails to the correct person.
- It’s always best to send any information directly to your case manager rather than to our [email protected] or [email protected] addresses.
- If you are our client and anyone contacts you saying they are your legal representative or they need private information about your VA benefits, do not reply to the email and instead call us.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
VA disability lawyer
Woods and Woods
VA Accreditation Number: 44739