Armed Forces Day is May 17th, and honors Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches. It’s also the second anniversary of the roll-out of Military Line outreach in Minnesota and North Dakota by Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB). Throughout the year, BBB salutes and supports the service of all Servicemembers – past or present – and their families that have served alongside them during military service at home or abroad, by providing educational programs throughout Minnesota and North Dakota.
For the last two years, local BBB staff has presented at more than 100 events, reaching 10,000-plus people through workshops and military expos/fairs. BBB regularly provides information regarding employment scams at job fairs, offers resources to struggling Veterans at StandDown events, conducts workshops on buying a car to Veterans transitioning from various support programs and educates military families on how to be smart consumers in today’s fast-paced economy.
This outreach has coincided with an influx of complaints from the military community. The number of complaints BBB has received from military-related consumers in Minnesota and North Dakota has quadrupled since the launch of our local Military Line program, from slightly more than 700 in 2011 to nearly 3,500 in 2013. The message of financial capability is clearly in demand, and people are sharing the message.
As we honor our military, it’s important to remember that not everyone who claims to be a Servicemember is serving or has actively served. Scammers know people hold the military in high regard and often try to profit from that fact. Some of the most prolific scams today involve people claiming affiliations with the military, either in a service or support role. Here are some of the more common scams:
- · Auto scams: People see advertisements for cars up for sale on websites like craigslist or PennySaver at unusually low prices, supposedly because the seller has been deployed on short notice and needs cash. Scammers will even reference an impending deployment to Afghanistan, to make potential buyers believe they may soon see combat.
TRUTH: Though it’s billed as a win/win – the seller is able to sell their car and has access to those funds and the buyer gets a good deal – this ‘deal’ leads to hopeful buyers losing their money and winding up without a vehicle. Be on the lookout for sales pitches like this, with cars being offered far below market value, and never wire money for a car you can’t inspect in person.
- · Social Media scams: Schemes like these often start with Facebook pleas from someone claiming to be a distressed family member soliciting donations for a fallen Servicemember’s funeral, family travel expenses, or child support. These messages may say the deceased was a Navy Seal, Ranger, or a Marine to play on your heartstrings. Scammers will usually ask donors to send money through PayPal, wire transfer or prepaid credit cards.
TRUTH: Military personnel have the opportunity to purchase very inexpensive life insurance policies (up to $400,000) for themselves and their immediate family. The family of any Servicemember who dies on active duty is assigned a liaison officer to assist family members in their time of loss.
- · Fake charities: Bogus charities claim to be raising funds on behalf of military organizations or veterans, and/or operate under a name similar to an established charity.
TRUTH: When you make a donation, always check www.give.org to ensure that the charity meets established standards – and make sure you know who you’re dealing with. There are too many solicitors out there that say they help Servicemembers, but only a small portion – if any – of the donations they collect benefits the military community.