If you are in the United States military or are a dependent or spouse of a currently serving military member, there are some scams that are aimed specifically at you. Many of these are variations of old con artist tricks, but some are a bit more unique, as we’ll see below.
Types of Military Scams
Social Media Scams are not limited to military families, but they are often targets. There is an old Facebook scam where someone in your Friends list contacts you asking for financial help to get them out of jail, get a car repair while on a trip, or any other “pay now and ask questions later” scenario.
But this person isn’t who you think they are; they compromised someone else’s Facebook account to fool people into thinking a friend was actually in need. Don’t fall for this trick. Call your friend or contact them outside of social media before sending ANY money. Do not send money before you personally determine whether there is an actual emergency or not.
Military Romance Scams may target the service member of someone in the immediate family, typically through some form of social media or online dating service.
Military romance scams are essentially the same as other “lonely hearts” fraud attempts; the giant red flag to beware of happens when the person you have met online asks you to help them out financially. When someone you have never met in person hits you up for cash, you should typically NOT send money.
Those foolish enough to consider doing so are usually asked to send the money via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Do not send money to people you have never met in person.
And any time you are asked to send a specific kind of payment like a wire transfer or prepaid debit card, you should refuse. This specific request is made because scammers can take the money and run, something they cannot as easily do (if at all) using Paypal, Venmo, or other cash apps.
Military Rental Scams are often aimed at military people because it’s often necessary to look at rental listings in a neighborhood they cannot visit in person right away. The rental scam basically involves a phony rental listing that the con artist has put in a prominent place like Craigslist or ForRent.com.
What the con artist wants you to do is to send them money for a deposit or to “hold” the property in advance. Never do this. Paying up front to view a property or to “reserve” it is a scam. So is a situation where you are required to sign a lease before viewing the property. Beware any rental listing that seems far more affordable than other properties of the same size and type–that much lower price point could be the bait a scammer is hoping you will take.
Military Charity Scams typically involve a person or group that has created a fake charity designed to fool you into thinking you’re donating to an established agency or non-profit. Typically you should avoid giving money to any so-called charity that reaches out to you unsolicited, asking for money. It’s one thing to be contacted if you have signed up for a charity’s email list. It’s another to email or call you out of the blue with you having shown zero prior interest.
Scam charities, like most scam operations, will ask you for a specific type of payment in the form of cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. This is a huge red flag and you should NEVER send a charitable donation via wire transfer or gift card. There is one exception–some legit charities ask their donors to purchase gift cards on behalf of veterans as a donation. If this is something you are interested in doing, you’ll want to take some of the advice below on how to spot a scam.
How to Spot a Military Scam
The first thing to remember about military scams is that you, the victim, are meant to be kept in the dark about some aspect of the scam. Beware of vague answers to your direct questions–this is a warning sign.
When it comes to romance scams, if you ask to meet in person, you are likely to be given a string of excuses. Or the request for money will come then–the scammer asks you for financial help to make your in-person meeting a reality. If you have never met someone in person, do they really have the right to ask you for money? No, they don’t, which is why they will invent some kind of emergency or personal issue that requires additional financial help from YOU.
If you are worried about rental scams, keep an eye out for red flags that include hard-sell tactics, and false urgency. One great example? Being told, “We have many interested renters looking at this property and it might be gone tomorrow” and urging you to hurry up and send money or sign a lease. Don’t do it. Never rent from a company you cannot find more information about online, and beware any individual prospective landlord who you cannot find information about online in the form of renter reviews or similar information.
The biggest warning sign for many scams? Third parties contacting you without you having asked them or given them permission to do so. If you initiated the contact, you may or may not be talking to a con artist. But if you DID NOT reach out first, do not proceed.
Rental and charity scams are often revealed with a bit of research–look for bad reviews of a charity or rental company via Google search or on social media. Beware of any third party reaching out to you without you having contacted them first, and DO NOT give your personal data to any third party who has initiated contact with YOU.