In the past eight years military service members, their families and veterans lost more than $405 million to scammers.
Comparitech, a consumer-information organization, analyzed years of information from the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book to find out how service members and veterans are losing money to criminals.
The study found nearly a million veterans and service members lost money to scammers since 2012. Veterans made up the largest chunk of that population, making up about 60% of the victims, and 55% of the total money lost. About 428,000 veterans were taken for $218.4 million.
About 152,600 active-duty military were affected by scammers since 2012, making up more than $124 million in losses.
The worst year for scams perpetrated against service members and veterans ended up being 2018. In that year nearly 400,000 people were affected and lost almost $90 million.
“About 275,000 of these reports stemmed from several phony websites that were set up to ‘help’ kids who wanted to get into the military,” the authors of the report wrote. “Instead of providing unbiased information, these sites profited from recommendations to for-profit schools that then targeted them to try and get them to enroll.”
The year with the biggest losses for service members and veterans was 2014, when they lost about $125 million. Comparitech attributes that to the Rome Finance scam, which cost troops and veterans $92 million.
“Rome Finance’s business model was built on fleecing service members,” said Richard Cordray in 2014, who was then the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Rome Finance lured service members in with the promise of instant financing on expensive electronics, then masked the finance charges with inflated prices in marketing materials and later withheld key information on monthly bills.”
The CFPB eventually obtained $92 million in debt relief from Rome Finance for the aggrieved service members.
The report serves as a warning to service members and veterans about how vulnerable their assets can be to scams.
The Defense Department is well aware of the issue. Last July, it sent out a warning to service members about social media scams. The warning named romance scams, sextortion and impersonation as top ways service members can be duped by scammers online.
“Scammers will contact veterans looking for jobs to offer them employment, often in a work-from-home environment. Scammers cite the victim’s military career as one of the reasons they were selected,” the report states. “They may even conduct interviews over Skype or Google Hangouts. The scammers often claim to have seen their resume on a legitimate job site like Indeed or ZipRecruiter.”
Scammers then ask for money for equipment and steal personal information.
DoD recommends limiting the amount of personal information on social media, searching yourself online to see if anyone is using your identity, and looking closely at messages or requests on social media to avoid being scammed.