May is National Military Appreciation Month, culminating on Memorial Day, which is a time to honor those who have lost their lives in active military service. Unfortunately, it's also become the time of year when scammers target those who serve or have served this nation. Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is urging people to be on the lookout for deals that seem too good to be true and for possible fraudulent charities.
"Service members have traditionally been prime targets for scammers who take advantage of their lifestyles," said Warren Clark, president of Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York. "While BBB works to educate our service members and their families regularly, it's important that anyone looking to support military causes this time of year proceed after they verify an organization's credibility. Supporters are encouraged to check BBB Charity Reviews first and look for transparent practices."
Scams can include those that target military members and their families directly or appear to be helping them through charities. Consumers who wish to donate should take the time to check out a charity, ask the person soliciting how the donation will be used, and never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or emails. It's also important to check the charity's financial transparency and tax deductibility. Donors are encourage to consider utilizing BBBs "20 Standards for Charity Accountability" as a reference to evaluate organizations.
BBB warns of the following scams that are directed at service members:
Fake military charity websites. All official military websites have ".mil" as their domain. Make sure to check for that when opening a site claiming to be from any branch of the U.S. Military.
High-priced military loans. Loans that promise a guaranteed instant approval or no credit check will often come with hidden fees and extremely high interest rates. Remember, legitimate lenders will never guarantee a loan before you apply, and loans that require upfront fees are likely a scam.
Veterans' benefits buyout plans. This offers a cash payment in exchange for a disabled veteran's future benefits or pension payments. The cash amount is only about 30-40 percent of what the veteran is entitled to. Research any buyout thoroughly before signing anything over.
Fake rental properties. Stolen photos of legitimate rental properties are used in advertisements that promise military discounts and other incentives. Service members will have to pay a fee via wire transfer for security payments or a key to the property - in the end they will receive nothing.
Phony jury duty summons. A caller claims to work for the local court system and states the service member did not show up for jury duty and now has a warrant out for his/her arrest. When the victim says he/she never got a summons, the caller will ask for a credit card number or Social Security number to clear up the matter.
Misleading car sales. Classified ad websites will sometimes offer fake discounts for military personnel, or will claim to be from soldiers who need to sell a vehicle fast since they have been deployed. Always double-check before sending any money.
Expensive life insurance policies. Members of the military are often the targets of high-pressured sales pitches that offer unnecessary, expensive life insurance policies. Solicitors may make false statements regarding the benefits that these policies offer.
BBB recommends the following tips to avoid these and other scams:
Do your research. Get as much information as you can about a business or charity before making any financial decisions. You can read reviews at bbb.org.
Don't wire transfer money to anyone you don't know. Money sent via wire transfer is practically impossible to track. Pay by credit card whenever possible, since it is easier to dispute credit card charges.
Protect your computer. Don't click on links within unsolicited emails. Don't enter personal information on unfamiliar websites. Make sure you have updated anti-virus software installed and use a firewall at all times.
Find free resources. Military families who need assistance don't need to pay for help. In addition to BBB Military Line, service men and women can turn to the FTC, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and www.saveandinvest.org, a free service of the NASD Investor Education Foundation.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2013, consumers turned to BBB 132 million times for business reviews on more than 4.5 million companies and charity reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 113 local, independent BBBs across the U.S. and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation. Visit bbb.org for more information.
Since 2004, BBB Military Line has provided free resources to military communities in the areas of financial literacy and consumer protection through the efforts of local BBBs across the U.S. Visit us at bbb.org/military for more information.