Military Consumer Protection Month, recognized every July since 2013, is an opportunity for consumer awareness, enforcement and advocacy groups to focus on the impact of fraudulent or malicious business practices on the military community. Despite the sacrifices members of the U.S. armed forces and their families make daily, they are often a preferred target for scammers and businesses employing unethical practices.
A few common scams that target military members include:
• High-priced military loans
• Veterans’ benefits buyout plans
• Fake rental properties
• Misleading car sales
• Expensive life insurance policies
According to reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021, active-duty service members lost nearly $330,000 to scammers across the United States, a more than 70% increase in monetary losses compared to 2020. Veterans across the nation were impacted to an even greater degree, with over $2 million lost to fraudulent business practices, a 640% increase in losses compared to 2020. Additionally, 50% of scam victims were over the age of 55.
“As a liaison between businesses and consumers, BBB is uniquely positioned to provide information, guidance and consumer resources to the military community,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. “By forming partnerships with military bases across Texas and monitoring marketplace transactions in cities with a large percentage of military personnel, BBB can quickly identify and warn service members of businesses utilizing unethical tactics.”
Despite the best efforts of consumer awareness and advocacy groups, BBB research and investigations have continually found that the military community is negatively affected by the tactics of scammers to a greater extent than their civilian counterparts. In a 2019 analysis of marketplace challenges facing the military community, BBB found that military consumers reported losing 32% more money to scammers than the general population and 68% more to credit repair or debt relief scams. BBB’s 2021 Scam Tracker Risk Report also found that military consumers were more susceptible and lost a higher median amount to scams than non-military consumers.
“It is a huge issue, and one that we are actively addressing with base commanders in cities across Texas,” said Jason Meza, BBB regional director and member of the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA). “BBB assists the disciplinary control board at JBSA by providing information about businesses in the area that have received a series of complaints by both regular and military consumers. This information helps the board determine which establishments are off-limits for those stationed here, preventing them from being taken advantage of by unethical or illegal practices.”
According to the FTC, the military community (active-duty service members, veterans, their families and Reservists) has lost more than $608 million to fraud from 2018-present, with the majority, $74.2 million, to government impostor scams. The FTC remains dedicated to protecting America’s service members through aggressive enforcement of reported fraudulent activity and a vigorous, ongoing educational campaign tailored for the military community.
Government impostor scams can be even more catastrophic for those in the military community who often interact with government agencies for assistance with veteran benefits, housing and medical care. Government impostors often use scare tactics and threats to pressure victims to take immediate action, such as claims of arrest, suspension of a Social Security number, bank account seizure or other fines. Some have become so advanced they even provide fake federal badges and other documentation to convince their target they are a legitimate government employee. This practice became so rampant in 2021 that it led to the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration (SSA) Gail S. Ennis issuing a public warning, explicitly stating the SSA will never text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
“Unfortunately, it is easy enough for scammers to download official seals and logos for most government agencies online, which they then use in their communications to convince their target it is really originating from that agency,” said Meza. “That is why it is so important for military consumers to be cautious of any email, text message or phone call they receive from someone claiming to be affiliated with the government. If they threaten immediate arrest or insist on payment for an outstanding bill through nontraditional means, such as a gift card, mobile banking app or wire transfer, hang up immediately and contact the agency through an official channel.”
Visit MilitaryConsumer.gov for more information about the FTC’s military consumer protection program.
For more information about BBB’s Military Line and to access BBB’s 2019 Military Consumers and Marketplace Trust report, visit BBB.org/Military.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2021, people turned to BBB more than 200 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 25,000 charities, free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas, which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.