Campaign aims to protect veterans from scams, fraud

The National Consumer Protection Week that runs through March 9 will focus on veterans, as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the AARP Fraud Watch Network continue to promote “Operation Protect Veterans,” a joint national campaign to draw attention to vet-related scams and fraud schemes.

The Postal Service and the Inspection Service are building on a national outreach effort to help veterans resist scammers.

Research shows veterans frequently are targeted by scam artists and victimized twice as often as the rest of the public.

“The goal of Operation Protect Veterans is to leverage the combined reach and communications capabilities of the Postal Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the AARP Fraud Watch Network to help veterans avoid losing money to con artists,” said Krista Finazzo, USPS district manager.

To date, the campaign has received responses from more than 12,000 former or current military personnel who described scams directed at their military benefits or that sought to take advantage of their affinity for veterans’ issues.

Some of the schemes used against veterans, according to the AARP Fraud Watch Network, include:

— Benefits buyout: Scammers offer an upfront payment of cash in exchange for a veteran’s future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit.

— Investment/pension scam: Unscrupulous investment advisers claim the veteran may be able to obtain additional government benefits by overhauling their investment holdings. For credible information on how to qualify for veterans’ benefits, contact a state veterans’ affairs agency; go to www.nasdva.us and click on “Links.”

— Veterans Choice Program scam: Scammers set up a phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to find out if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the VA system. Veterans call the fake number and a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. They then debit that account. Veterans should make sure to dial the correct number for the VCP: 866-606-8198.

— Charging for records: A scammer attempts to charge for access to a veteran’s military records or government forms. Veterans never have to pay for records.

— VA phishing: Scammers call veterans claiming they work for the VA and ask for personal information to update records. Any veterans who gets an unsolicited call from the VA, hang up.

— Employment scams: Con artists post bogus job offers to recruit veterans on various online job boards. The scammer may use or sell personal information provided in the job application. Any listing that requires pay to get the job, or credit card or banking information, or is for “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs likely is a scam.

— GI Bill education marketing scam: Veterans seeking to use the G.I. Bill benefits earned for college courses may be targets of deceptive marketing tactics that provide false information and encourage them to attend expensive for-profit educational institutions. The VA offers a comparison tool to help locate a school and determine benefits at www.vets.gov/education/gi-bill.

For more information on how scammers target military veterans, go to AARP’s report “Under Fire: Military Veterans and Consumer Fraud.”

For more information about Operation Protect Veterans, go to AARP website: action.aarp.org/site/SPageNavigator/FWN_OperationProtectVeterans.html.

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