published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Biz Bulletin: How to avoid scams targeting veterans

By Jim Winsett

Q: My sister, who is a veteran, is looking for an apartment. She found a really nice one, but the person renting the place wanted money upfront, before she could even take a look at it! It seems like a scam to me. Does the BBB have tips on how to avoid scammers targeting veterans and the military?

A: This Monday is Memorial Day, a time to honor those who serve and remember those who have died in war. But sadly, it has also become a key opportunity for scammers to target those who are serving or have served their nation, especially elderly veterans. As Memorial Day approaches, the Better Business Bureau urges consumers and donors to be aware of scammers that feed off the military.

BBB Military Line, the military arm of the Better Business Bureau, provides free resources, such as financial literacy information, access to BBB services and scam alerts, and complaint and dispute resolution for all branches of the U.S. military. BBB warns of the following scams that are directed at service members:

High priced military loans -- Advertisements for loans that promise a guarantee, instant approval or no credit check will often come with hidden fees and extremely high interest rates. Remember that legitimate lenders will never guarantee a loan before you apply and loans that require an upfront fee are likely a scam.

Veterans' benefits buyout plans -- This buyout plan will offer a cash payment in exchange for a disabled veteran's future benefits or pension payments. The cash amount is only about 30 to 40 percent of what the veteran is entitled to. These buyout plans can be structured in several different ways, so research 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 clams to work for the local court system and states that the service member did not show up for jury duty and now has a warrant out for their arrest. When the victim says they 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 -- Websites posting classified ads will offer false discounts for military personnel or claim to be from soldiers who need to sell their vehicle fast since they have been deployed. Upfront fees will be required via wire transfer, or the vehicle will have problems after purchase.

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 scams:

Do your research. Get as much information as you can about a business or charity before you pay. Check out a business' BBB Business Review at bbb.org or a charity's Charity Report at give.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 you can dispute charges easily.

Protect your computer. Don't click on links within unsolicited emails. Don't enter personal information on unfamiliar websites. Make sure that you have updated anti-virus software installed and use a firewall at all times.

Put an Active Duty alert on your credit reports when deployed. Doing so will minimize the risk of identity theft because creditors and businesses cannot issue or grant credit until verifying identity.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.

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