Military members, families are frequent targets of scammers

  • Published
  • By Maj. Justin Lonergan
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- As much as challenge and adversity bring out the best in our communities, so too can it bring out those who are willing to take moral and legal shortcuts to make a few bucks.

Unfortunately, military members and families are frequent targets for scammers. Service members and their families have publicly available income information, steady paychecks and a sense of goodwill toward others.

The good news is that scams also tend to follow a predictable pattern, and some basic situational awareness can help orient you to potential problems and leave you in good shape as current events continue to evolve.

More time at home, more time online, more exposure to scams

Internet offers for cheap refinances, ultra-low cost insurance, credit repair services and more can all involve elements of misrepresentation, unfilled promises or outright fraud.

A basic sense of skepticism toward internet offers is your first line of defense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For example, no matter how persuasive the pitch, a credit repair agency cannot eliminate all your problems and give you an excellent credit score in time to line up with release from stay-home orders.

Be a smart consumer

Use appropriate sources to verify offers, claims or programs. The CARES Act is a humongous bill with a range of programs and benefits, many of which are not afforded much news coverage.

Scammers may try to latch on to familiar sounding terms, such as “CARES Act,” “stimulus,” or “economic incentives” to get you to believe you are signing up for a legitimate government service or program.

Use primary sources, such as federal or state government web pages to verify prior to committing. There is probably no rush on a good deal considering how slowly things are going right now. Someone pushing you to sign right away without doing your own research is a major warning sign that something is not right.

Read the small print!

Courts and lawyers may not be able to save you from a bad deal if you did not bother to read what you were signing. Ensure that you completely fill out forms and do not leave blank areas where someone could add or persuasively alter documents bearing your signature.

Similarly, retain copies of applications, forms, etc. Do not assume you can talk your way around the fine print if the deal goes bad.

Fighting scams is a team effort

Ask for help quickly in uncertain situations. If in doubt, call a trusted friend, supervisor or seek help from one of the many appropriate support agencies. They can at least point you in the right direction.

If you find yourself in a bad spot and realize you have been scammed, it is especially important to ask for help immediately. Falling for a scam happens to the best of us, and scammers count on you being too proud to speak up after you realize you’ve been scammed.

Delaying can hurt your chances of fixing a bad deal, and it leaves your fellow service members vulnerable to the same scam. Call the Legal Office to see if legal assistance may be appropriate for your situation.

At a minimum, pass the word around if you see suspicious behavior. In certain cases, speaking up can give the Air Force the chance to get ahead of, or even remove or prosecute the scammer.

The Vance Legal Office is available at 580-213-7404.