This Sunday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day. Unfortunately, it’s also a reminder that military consumers are ongoing targets for fraud because of their service or benefits.
The Federal Trade Commission received some 106,000 military consumer complaints in 2017. The overwhelming majority — three-quarters — were from veterans or retirees. They reported a total fraud loss of $37.7 million. In fact, 80 percent of the veterans surveyed last year by the AARP Fraud Watch Network said they’d encountered veteran-specific scams.
Like bogus calls from the “Veterans Administration” requesting updated personal identifying information leading to identity theft. Or fraudsters charging veterans for military records which are available free from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (www.archives.gov/veterans, 866-272-6272). Or schemes which take advantage of veterans in need by offering upfront buyouts in exchange for signing over future disability or pension benefits.
Many crooks pose as veterans themselves.
“They pretend to be service members about to be posted overseas who need to sell expensive items at a big discount,” notes Scambusters.org. “Or they may offer to sell items or rent out property with a large military discount — with payment required upfront, of course.”
“To a savvy con-artist, stolen valor can be an extremely effective tool,” explained AARP’s Douglas Shadel. “We’ve heard from a number of former and current scam artists who tell us they specifically target vets with false claims of military service brotherhood. They know patriotism among vets can be a powerful window into their hearts and wallets.”
Get a free copy of the AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook Veterans’ Edition: 9 Ways Con Artists Target Veterans, at www.aarp.org/ProtectVeterans or call 877-908-3360.
There’s free help connecting vets to all earned benefits and services. Call the Veterans’ Services office in Charlotte County at 941-764-5579 or Sarasota County at 941-861-8387. To reach the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, call 850-487-1533.
Veterans Day also brings out charitable donation requests from many fraudulent organizations.
“Often they use names that sound like well-known charities or include words like veteran, operation, hero, wounded, disabled, or homeless,” warns the FTC. “Just because those words are in the organization’s name doesn’t mean it actually helps veterans.”
For example, the FTC just announced an enforcement action against Help the Vets, which also operated under American Disabled Veterans Foundation, Military Families of America and Veterans Emergency Blood Bank. According to the FTC’s complaint, over a three-year period, the charities collected over $20 million making false claims. It then spent 95-percent of the donations on fundraising and administrative expenses.
So, before giving to any veteran-related charity, vet them at www.charitynavigator.org, www.give.org, and www.charitywatch.org, paying close attention to the percentage of donations going to fundraising.
Now onto the perks.
Many companies recognize active military and veterans with special Veterans Day discounts. These aren’t entitlements, but commendable voluntary business decisions. To qualify, you’ll need your DD Form 214 discharge document, a driver’s license with a veteran designation, a VA health care ID card, or the new national Veterans Identification Card (VIC). (To apply for a free VIC online, go to https://preview.va.gov/records/get-veteran-id-cards/vic).
So what’s being offered? On Sunday, Publix is giving veterans a 10 percent discount on all groceries. And Great Clips is offering veterans and active military members a free haircut or coupon to use at a later date.
Hungry? Many national restaurant chains — including Applebee’s, Chili’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, Outback and Olive Garden — are offering veterans free selected food items on Sunday. Call locations to verify offers and participation. For an updated list, go to https://themilitarywallet.com/veterans-day-free-meals-and-discounts/.
And don’t miss Golden Corral’s 18th annual free military appreciation dinner in Punta Gorda from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12., available to any person who’s served in the U.S. military.
As a proud Navy dad, thanks to all who served and are serving.
David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or leave a message at 941-206-1114.