Military Phone Scams: How Scammers Target Military Personnel & Veterans
Frequently, we hear stories of military romance scams on online dating sites where the scam artist creates a fake profile claiming to be a U.S. soldier deployed overseas. They steal photos and names from social media sites of service men and women in order to convince their marks to send them large sums of money. They may claim the money is needed for transportation costs, medical fees, marriage processing fees, or service-related needs.
Other common scams that active-duty personnel and veterans face are pension and benefits scams. A fraudster will call and offer to help with the necessary paperwork, but in reality, they are stealing personal information.The scammer may circumvent the U.S. soldier and target military families for information.
Active-duty military personnel and veterans are just as much of a target, if not more of a target than civilians for fraud and identity theft. The annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book compiles millions of complaints each year from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other organizations committed to protecting consumer rights, among the complaints that they receive are those of military consumers.
The Consumer Sentinel Network received 113,246 complaints from United States military consumers in 2019. Military veterans were targeted much more than active duty service members, reservists, and military spouses. Here is a breakdown on the amount of complaints, the amount of money lost and the median amount of money lost per person.
|Status||# of Reports||Total Loss||Average Loss per Person|
|Dependent Child/Other of a Service Member||2,745||$2M||$500|
|Dependent Spouse of a Service Member||12,763||$7M||$616|
|Inactive Reserve/National Guard||6,355||$4M||$635|
The United States Navy reported the majority of these complaints (39%), followed by the United States Army (36%), the United States Air Force (14.5%), the United States Marine Corps (8.5%), and the United States Coast Guard (1.5%).
Are Certain Individuals Being Targeted More Than Others?
U.S. military retirees and veterans reported the highest amount of fraud and identity theft complaints, making up 70% of military members' complaints. The second highest group of targeted individuals were dependent spouses of service members, accounting for 11% of complaints. Active-duty military members made up 10% of the complaints.
What Are the Most Common Types of Military Phone Scams?
There were over 58,000 fraud complaints reported by military consumers, more than 28,000 identity theft complaints, and over 37,000 complaints which were categorized as other.
As previously mentioned, the most common form of fraud reported were impostor scams, which stole over $27 million in 2019. These scams consist of a person impersonating a government official or company representative in order to phish information from their target and steal money.
The leading form of identity theft among military consumers was credit card fraud. Fraudsters will frequently create new credit card accounts with the information of deployed military personnel. While deployed the victim of this form of fraud typically doesn’t realize that new credit cards have been opened under their name.
Below are some additional scams which target military personnel, their families, and veterans:
Rental Property Scams
Con artists often contact military members searching for housing near a base. The scam includes posting a picture and information on a rental property. The property may exist, but it is often listed at a low price to attract potential targets. Sometimes scammers post photos of property taken from real estate websites. When service personnel contact the “landlord” or “real estate agent,” they get a story about how the owner is out of town or state, and the transaction must take place via email. They always use untraceable email addresses and often operate from cybercafes to prevent being traced. They try to get the would-be renter to send money by wire transfer for a deposit and other fees. The money disappears, and the victim has no place to live. In 2019 there were over 3,000 reports of lease fraud among military consumers.
DFAS/MyPay Phishing Scams
These schemes try to steal Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and other personal information. The scammer pretends to be from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service or another military organization and contacts members or their spouses by phone, email, or text. They may claim that due to computer problems your information was lost and that it needs to be reentered to process payments. In other cases, the scammers send emails that contain links or attachments that can put malware on computers to steal passwords and account information.
You should never provide personal information on the phone – or click on links in emails – from someone you don't know. Also, DFAS and other military organizations never ask for personal financial information, account numbers or passwords over the phone or via email. Impostor scams made up the majority of complaints from military consumers in 2019, with over 35,000 complaints and more than $27 million lost.
Some people consider getting a payday loan when money is tight. However, these loans never make good financial sense. "Short-term,” “payday” or “personal" loans offer funds of varying amounts. Scams will often offer large sums of money. They also come with high interest rates and fees. Many states have banned these loans due to the financial burden they cause. Active-duty service members should know that the Military Lending Act protects them from payday loans. The MLA gives service members these rights:
- A 36% cap on the loan’s interest rates for less than three months.
- A lender can't require members to agree to mandatory arbitration or give up their rights under state and federal laws.
- A lender can't require voluntary military allotment or automatic repayments from their bank accounts or paychecks.
- A lender can't charge fees or penalties for paying the loan off early.
Other Military Scams to Avoid
Military OneSource also offers free access to financial counselors who can help with various financial matters as well as fraud prevention. Victims of military scams should file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Fraud?
The best way to prevent fraud is to know your rights, look out for red flags, and report phone scams to the proper authorities. Never trust an unsolicited phone call in which the caller asks for your personal information. In cases such as these, say you'll call back later and hang up. Then check the number in a free number tracer app, like CallerSmart, to check for any suspicious behavior. You can also report your feedback on a suspicious number to help others in our iPhone app. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still run reverse number lookups on our website and report numbers to help others avoid scams.