No punishment too severe

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that military veterans lost $102 million to scammers (con artists) in 2020, $257 million in 2021 and $414 million in 2022, a dramatic increase in two years. Actual monetary losses are undoubtedly much higher as many, perhaps most, veterans do not report their victimizations to authorities.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that veterans and their families are 40% more likely to lose money to scams and frauds than the civilian population. “Con artists specifically target veterans with false claims of military service brotherhood. They know patriotism among vets can be an open door into hearts and wallets.” Ross Bryant (University of Nevada) notes that scammers “seem to be preying on older veterans, who maybe aren’t as savvy with their passwords and personal information.”

These are the most common veterans scams:

¯ The American Disabled Veterans Foundation, Healing Heroes Network, Veterans Fighting Breast Cancer, Military Families of America and National Vietnam Veterans Foundation sound like legitimate charities and organizations. The Department of Justice reports they have all been sued for lying to donors. The American Veterans Foundation raised nearly $6.5 million from donors who were informed their contributions buy care packages for deployed troops and homeless veterans. This bogus organization used 92% of the money it raised for telemarketing and administrative costs before it was shut down by the FTC in 2019.

These “charities” pressure people to donate immediately. Before making a donation check with organizations such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to determine if a supposed charity is legitimate, how much it spends on overhead and the salaries of its three highest administrators.

¯ Via the “Secret Benefits” scam, veterans are told they qualify for little known “secret” government programs or benefits that yield thousands of dollars in compensation. The scammers tell veterans they need personal information, their Social Security number, for example, and/or require a hefty fee to access these secret funds. This scam exploits a common perception among some veterans that the VA doesn’t deal fairly with them or is less than fully transparent with deserving veterans. Take note — there are no secret government veterans’ benefit programs.

¯ The American Legion reports that since passage of the PACT Act in August 2022 (the law expanding VA health care and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances) scammers have been contacting veterans by telephone and email. They offer to expedite the claims process for an up front fee. VA Deputy Chief of Staff Maureen Elias states that some of these bogus services are “charging up to six times the amount the veteran receives in benefit payouts.”

¯ Veterans are contacted by government agency impostors who want to “update” their files noting that an update is required to maintain the veteran’s benefits. These scammers want personal and financial information including an individual’s Social Security number, a critical piece of information in identity theft.

¯ Scammers inform veterans they are eligible for special discounts on purchases of cars and trucks, home loans and vacation rentals among other products and services. These discounts are either blown out of proportion or do not exist. Any “down payment” made on these discounts is lost. While there are legitimate discounts for veterans, check them out closely and keep in mind that if a supposed financial opportunity sounds to good to be true, it’s a scam.

¯ Pension Poaching scammers may offer veterans a lump sum payment in exchange for signing over all of their future monthly benefit checks. These scams may involve a caregiver who requires that the veteran or survivor have their benefits deposited into the caregiver’s bank account. The VA states that all benefits must go directly to the beneficiary (veteran or survivor), not the caregiver or some third party.

¯ In nearby Warren County, scammers claiming to be VA employees have been calling veterans saying they have to update or verify VA-related information. The callers ask for personal and financial information. In another version of this scam, callers state that the veteran’s bank account has been found on a “public computer,” and they (the scammers) need to verify the veteran’s bank account information to remove it.

¯ Calling themselves “medical consultants” or “coaches,” scammers convince veterans they can cut through VA red tape and provide faster turnaround times on disability claims as well as obtain more lucrative benefits than a VA-approved representative. Fees for this fraudulent “service” are high and veterans can lose thousands of dollars.

¯ The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that veterans are often the target of shady, if not completely bogus, educational institutions — colleges and technical schools. These

misleading or fraudulent programs do not provide accredited degrees nor transferable credits, and may deplete all of a young veteran’s education entitlements. Veterans eager to take advantage of their education benefits may be promised scholarships and financial aid from high-pressure scammers. Veterans are told they have to pay a (hefty) fee immediately or risk missing out on this wonderful “opportunity.” Over a period of ten years two con men running a California technical school scam cheated veterans (and U.S. taxpayers) out of approximately $100 million.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers the following scam protection advice: “Resist the pressure to act immediately. Stop and talk to someone you trust. Protect your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect, even if the caller has some of your personal information.”

In July of this year Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) and (Ted Budd (R-North Carolina) introduced a bill — The Veterans Protection from Fraud Act — that would add up to 10 additional years in prison for individuals convicted of mail fraud and similar crimes when veterans are victimized. When one considers the full meaning of Veterans Day, there is no punishment too severe for these cruel scammers.

— — —

George J. Bryjak served in Okinawa and Vietnam with the First Marine Air Wing. He lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.


Andrews, M (2023) “Some private companies charge hefty fees to help veterans with disability claims,” May 11, CBS News, www.cbsnews.com

Brennan, B. and K. Smith (2022) “FBI Phoenix: Scams Targeting Veterans,” November 10, Federal Bureau of Investigation, www.fbi.gov

de las Heras, G. (2022) “Imposter scams targeting veterans and service members” November 10, Federal Trade Commission – Consumer Advice, https://consumer.ftc.gov

“Operation Donate with Honor” (accessed 2023) U.S. Department of Justice, New Hampshire, www.doj.nh.gov

Pomroy, K. (2022) “Military Veterans Susceptible to Scams and Fraud, Study Finds,” August 7,

Kiplinger, www.kiplinger.com

Shane III, L. (2023) “Scammers who target veterans could face extra prison time,” July 23, the Military Times, www.militarytimes.org

“The PACT Act and your VA benefits” (accessed 2023) Veterans Administration, www.va.gov

“Protecting Veterans from Fraud” (accessed 2023) U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov

“Veteran and Military Scammer List” (accessed 2023) Disabled American Veterans, ww.dav.org

“Veterans Affairs Telephone Scam” (accessed 2023) Warren County, https://warrencountyny.gov

“Veterans, be wary of PACT Act scammers” (accessed 2023) American Legion. www.legion,org

“Veterans Charity Scam” (2022) AARP, www.arp.org

“5 Ways Scammers Target Veterans” (accessed 2023) Rep for Vets, www.repforvets.com


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