How to Protect Yourself Against Scammers Targeting the Military

July is Military Consumer Month, a good time to draw attention to the scammers that target service members and their families.

The email looked very official -- it featured the red, white, and blue Bank of America logo and claimed to detect suspicious activity on Stephanie Talcott’s debit card. In small print at the bottom of the email, it stated that the bank might ask for information like PIN number, account number, or Social Security number.

The only problem was, Talcott didn’t have any sort of account at Bank of America. She was the target of a common internet fraud scheme known as phishing where scammers try to get you to reveal personal information.

Fortunately, Talcott knew the signs and simply ignored the email. But she says she’s seen plenty of scams during her career as an Accredited Financial Counselor®. Currently a Personal Financial Management Specialist at Naval Air Station Pensacola’s Fleet and Family Support Center, she says she’s seen a wide variety of scams that target service members.

Talcott sees lots of scams involving online sales sites. Bait and switch tactics – where an item is advertised as one thing and then turns out to be something else – are common. She says she recently had a service member come to her after wiring $450 to purchase a cell phone that turned out to be nothing more than a box full of shredded paper.

Not all scams are online. Working in the Florida panhandle, Talcott encounters her fair share of post-hurricane fraud schemes. After a big storm, “roofers” will knock on doors claiming that they are offering a neighborhood discount and that they have just worked on someone else’s roof up the street. They require an up-front deposit, but never end up completing the work. She’s seen the same scam with contractors claiming to be painters or solar-panel installers.

Here are some ways that you can protect yourself from fraud:

Be skeptical – The old adage is true: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Don’t believe your caller ID, because scammers can fake phone numbers. Call back a genuine number that you have used in the past to confirm the information.

Hang up on robocalls – If you pick up a call and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up. Not only are robocalls illegal, they are also very likely pitching bogus products. Report these calls to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Consider how you pay – Credit cards carry certain protections against fraud; if you wire money or pay via gift card, it is almost impossible to get your money back.

Do your research – Before you buy a product or service, search online to see if there are reviews or complaints. If you get a letter or call that claims to be from a company or a government agency, do a search on that as well.

Sign up for free scam alerts – Sign up for the FTC’s scam alerts and find out about recent scams plus tips and advice for avoiding them.

If you’re ever in doubt about a potential fraud situation, or think you may be the victim of fraud, you can visit the FTC’s Complaint Assistant where you can research scams and even chat with a technical support specialist. You can also go see a personal financial counselor or manager at your local family readiness center and they will be able to direct you to more resources.

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