Military consumers reported losing nearly $104 million to imposter scams in 2021, a 160% increase from 2020 (FTC). There are many reasons why military service members and their families are vulnerable to these types of scams. Regular paychecks, consistent benefits and lack of privacy— combined with the fact that many of these families find themselves in stressful situations making quick decisions due to deployment and PCS—makes this group a prime target for scammers.
3 Imposter Scams to Watch Out For
Imposter scams come in many different variations, but they all involve a scammer pretending to be a trusted person in an effort to steal money or personal information. Here’s a few that service members and their families should be vigilant for:
1. Government/Military Imposter Scams
These scammers typically use spoofed phone numbers or phishing messages that appear to come from a legitimate government or military representative—such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, or DFAS—in an attempt to steal your money or sensitive information.
Example: You receive a text message appearing to be from DFAS. The message warns you that something happened within their system and your data was lost. The message asks you to click on a link and update your information in order to continue receiving your paycheck. But this message isn’t from DFAS, it’s from a scammer trying to steal your personal information in order to carry out other scams—such as identity theft.
2. Job Opportunity Scams
This type of imposter scam targets military spouses looking to land work-from-home jobs following a PCS move. Generally, scammers pose as fake recruiters or employers who seek out targets through online job listing sites and social platforms such as Indeed or LinkedIn. These fake recruiters will ask for sensitive information or upfront fees as part of the hiring or onboarding process.
Example: You are approached online by a recruiter offering the perfect work-from-home opportunity in your preferred field—allowing you to work from anywhere the military takes you while doing something you love. In the midst of your excitement, they ask you to purchase a laptop and send it to their IT department for setup. They reassure you that you will be reimbursed on your first paycheck. However, once they receive the laptop, you never hear from them again.
3. Education Scams
This type of imposter scam typically targets military spouses or children looking to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill—which allows service members the ability to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouse or children. Typically, scammers pose as companies or institutions to scam people out of a legitimate education. They may also charge tuition rates that exceed GI Bill benefit caps, leaving their victims with serious student loan debt.
Example: You want to take advantage of your spouse’s GI Bill benefits to land a better job, and you come across a college that is offering you a free laptop when you sign up for courses at their school. Their website seems legitimate, so you do all the paperwork and enroll. However, without your knowledge, you are enrolled in cheaper, unaccredited courses. In the end, the scammer charges the government full university tuition rates and pockets the difference. Unfortunately, once you complete the program you are left with a worthless degree and an extensive amount of time wasted.
Warning Signs of Imposter Scams
Proceed with caution if someone:
- Requires you to pay upfront fees.
- Requests unusual payment methods.
- Asks for your personal information.
- Pressures you to act quickly.
- Makes guarantees or promises.
- Offers a deal that sounds too good to be true.
Take Immediate Action
Take these steps if you have been scammed:
- Collect and keep all documentation related to the scam.
- If you provided financial information, contact the financial institution right away.
- Keep an eye on your credit report and financial accounts for any unusual activity. Consider placing a freeze on your credit report.
- Help others avoid these scams by reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.FTC.gov.
How to Spot Imposter Scams
When faced with a questionable situation online:
Slow it down — Take your time, ask questions and do your research to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
Spot check — Conduct an internet search by looking up the company or the person who contacted you followed by words like “scam” or “complaint.”
Stop! Don’t send — If they insist you send the money in gift cards or by wire transfer, it’s a scam.