By Attorney General Josh Stein
As we celebrated our nation on the Fourth of July, we must also remember those who work to keep us safe. July is Military Consumer Month, a good time to highlight the work my office does to protect our service members from scams and fraud.
Unfortunately, members of the armed forces are especially vulnerable to being victims of scams and frauds. They travel frequently and often have to make large purchases in new places that are very different from the local businesses they know and trust at home. And because they can be placed in dangerous situations overseas, their family members are also vulnerable to scams that play on the fears and concerns over a loved one’s safety.
Anyone who takes advantage of military families is without a conscience, and my office will do everything in our power to hold these bad actors accountable. If you or someone you love is in the military, here are some scams to be on the lookout for, as well as some ways you can protect yourself.
Service members are often the target of unfair lending and business practices. They may be offered easy access to loans through advanced fee loan scams, which require you to pay for the broker’s help before you get the loan. Remember, in North Carolina, it’s illegal for a broker to charge an advance fee to help you get a loan or a credit card. You should report these scams to my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint online.
Military members can also be targeted by risky investments that carry high interest rates, such as risky car sales and financial schemes that promise to give you upfront cash. In all of these situations, it’s important to take the time to do your research and feel comfortable with your decision. If the business is pressuring you into making a decision, the business likely does not have your best interests at heart. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Listen to your instincts.
Last year, our office dealt with a scam designed to trick veterans in North Carolina into giving up their credit card information. Scammers mailed a letter to veterans asking them to call a toll-free telephone number that looked like the phone number for the Veterans Choice Program, a government health initiative. They were told that providing their credit card number would help them save money on their healthcare. Unfortunately, these criminals were successful in scamming several veterans. Remember that real government officials won’t ask you for your financial information in this way. When dealing with health or financial information, double check the number you’re dialing or the URL you’re visiting, and verify who you’re speaking with.
Scammers may also target military family members with an imposter scam. Imposters call relatives, often those who are older or may panic easily, and claim to be their relative in the military or someone who knows their relative. They’ll pretend that the relative is in serious financial trouble or physical danger and needs money immediately to ensure their safety. Because this is an understandably stressful situation, people will often panic and share their financial information. If you find yourself in such a situation, stop, take a deep breath, hang up and attempt to verify the information with someone you trust. You can also call local law enforcement. And never send money through prepaid debit or gift cards. These are always a scam.
Even if you’re not in the military, you may come across people asking for donations on behalf of the military. There are many nonprofits that do important, valuable work to help our armed forces and their families, but you want to make sure you don’t give money to a charity that doesn’t deliver on its promises. To ensure you’re donating your money wisely, read more about verifying charities at www.ncdoj.gov/charity.
Members of the military and their families sacrifice so much in special service to our country. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude, and we have a responsibility to make sure that they’re not getting scammed for their bravery. So if you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam because of a military connection, or if you have any questions about a possible scam, please call my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov/complaint.