The era of Nigerian princes who “kindly” ask for money through emails laden with major grammar errors is over. The internet has unleashed a new class of scams – and scammers – more sophisticated than ever.
While some might assume criminals focus on the elderly population, the Better Business Bureau received more fraud reports from people aged 35 to 44 in 2021 than any other demographic.
Last year, the BBB recorded that military families typically lose more money to these hoaxes than their civilian counterparts. While non-military victims lose a median of $160 per reported case, a victim associated with military service loses a median of $204.
The Federal Trade Commission is committed to preventing the people who serve the country from being duped, so it recently released a military dashboard. It’s an online database updated every quarter to share the latest fraud statistics reported by service members and their families. According to the dashboard, since 2018, active-duty military service members have lost $87.8 million to scammers.
Financial stress, spouse unemployment, loneliness and the confusion that comes with moving to an unfamiliar place often put military families in the crosshairs of some of the most compelling scams. Experts warn service members to be aware of two emerging tactics criminals use to steal money.
Roseann Freitas, public relations and communications manager for Better Business Bureau in Honolulu, says military spouses and veterans must be especially cautious of employment scams.
Many spouses seek flexible and remote job opportunities, which unfortunately means most of their communication with a potential employer is not in person. Veterans might not have applied for a new job in more than 20 years, if ever, so it might be harder to identify suspicious behavior in a potential employer.
“Now you’re seeing everything is done online, and unfortunately, that’s where scammers are living as well,” Freitas said. “Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between a legitimate job and somebody who is scamming because they just copy (job postings), and it looks legitimate.”
Job seekers should be alert for red flags, like if an “employer” appears from nowhere into their email inbox, offering a job that the recipient never applied for. Once a victim is “hired,” the thief will send them a check for a larger amount than initially specified. The scammer will claim they made a payroll mistake and ask the victim to send the extra back through cash apps or gift cards. Meanwhile, the victim can deposit the check, but that doesn’t mean it’s real money — even if a victim can withdraw it immediately.
“We find that the younger generation doesn’t necessarily understand how checks work because they don’t really write checks. They do cash apps,” Freitas said, adding that even if a check has hit a bank account, it can take up to 10 days to clear. “If it does not clear, then it’s back on the person who cashed the check.”
The FTC has also received complaints about scams centered around useless paid training programs or job placement services that are a hoax.
“If a placement firm asks you for a fee, you should walk away. You don’t want to be dealing with them because that’s just a scam. They’re not going to find you a job,” said Carol Kando-Pineda, an attorney with the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education.
According to Kando-Pineda, legitimate recruiters get paid from the companies they find candidates for, not employees seeking work.
As cryptocurrency rises in popularity, it’s also become one of the easiest ways to be duped out of a massive chunk of change.
“It’s the new hot way for scammers to ask you to pay,” said Kando-Pineda. “People are losing the most money to these.”
The average age of the crypto scam victims is 20 to 49, a demographic Kando-Pineda said makes service members prime targets.
The FTC reports that since the start of 2021, more than 46,000 people have lost a collective $1 billion in crypto to scams. The median loss reported is $2,600. As crypto transfers can’t be reversed, there’s no way to get the money back.
The most common tactic crypto scammers use is placing an ad or post on social media; sometimes, they’ll even directly message victims. They’ll claim to be able to help their targets get huge returns on their crypto investments. These sophisticated operations even feature fake websites that trick victims into thinking they’re monitoring the progress of their “invested” digital currency. However, once victims attempt to cash their money out, they can’t.
Before military families send money through crypto, gift cards or cash, do as much research as possible. A simple internet search for a company or “financial investor” might reveal the truth and save a potential victim thousands of dollars.
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Military Families Magazine.
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