Los Angeles, California - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued the following tips to help California servicemembers and veterans protect themselves from scams. Scammers target those serving our country, attempting to prey on their steady and hard-earned incomes. The youngest men and women in uniform are particularly vulnerable as they are often living away from home for the first time and are only beginning to manage their finances independently.
“On Memorial Day, we honor the military veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation,” said Attorney General Harris. “While we remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of our veterans, we are also reminded that too many men and women who serve our nation are targeted by scam artists and predators. My office remains vigilant in support of all veterans, will protect servicemembers from fraud, and will hold accountable those who prey upon members of our military.”
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
There are many different scams targeting servicemembers and veterans, but scammers tend to follow similar patterns. Here are some of the most common scams of which to be aware:
- Predatory auto sales and financing. Car dealers located near military bases may try to lure servicemembers with false promises of special deals for military personnel. Often, these so-called deals conceal the terms of purchase for the vehicle and result in the servicemember drastically overpaying for both the vehicle and cost of financing. For example, dealers may insist that military personnel will not qualify for financing unless they purchase overpriced add-ons they do not need. Other times, the dealer may contact a servicemember who previously completed a transaction and drove a car off the lot to inform him that the initial financing fell through and insist on renegotiating for far worse terms. Servicemembers should not rely on oral promises nor feel pressured to enter into any purchase without first reading and understanding the contract.
- Storage units. Servicemembers may spend months or years away from their belongings and often must rely on storage services while they are gone. During deployment, stored possessions benefit from additional legal protections to prevent them from being sold at auction as a result of a default in rental payments. Unscrupulous storage complexes may claim ignorance of military status or induce servicemembers to sign away their rights in order to auction their property while they are away. Military personnel should notify storage companies of their military affiliation and should not agree to waive the rights designed to protect them.
- Rental scams. Because they may relocate frequently to unfamiliar places, servicemembers should be particularly vigilant about online scammers who use websites like Craigslist to lure would-be renters into paying deposits for non-existent rental properties. The online advertisements may appear legitimate on the surface, but rentals listed at abnormally low rates or landlords requiring a deposit prior to showing the property usually signal a scam. Particularly with peak Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season fast approaching, military renters should watch out for insistent demands that instill a false sense of urgency and should avoid wiring money to reserve apartments sight unseen. Using installation housing services offices or established property management companies to locate potential housing is advisable.
- Education rip-offs. Veterans Administration education benefits provide a unique and valuable opportunity for military personnel to pursue higher education. Too often, however, recipients become the targets of disreputable for-profit colleges that are happy to pocket hard-earned benefits but provide little education in return. Servicemembers and veterans should take great care to ensure that they use their benefits wisely by thoroughly researching educational opportunities before using their benefits. The G.I. Bill Comparison Tool may be helpful in determining how to best utilize these benefits.
- Pension scams. Organizations professing a sincere concern for veterans may approach a veteran or his/her family about helping them qualify for VA pension benefits under the Aid and Attendance Program. These organizations purport to employ financial wizardry to help veterans meet the program’s income and asset limitations. But the organizations often charge high fees and receive lucrative undisclosed commissions for the financial products they sell to unsuspecting veterans. Applicants who utilize this assistance may later discover that they no longer have access to their assets or that they are disqualified from other government programs, such as Medicaid. For additional information, see Attorney General Harris’ Consumer Alert on Veteran “Pension Poaching” Scams.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY
- Be vigilant in any consumer transaction in which your military affiliation is involved. While there are certainly many respectable businesses that offer special deals to servicemembers and veterans, there are also plenty of dishonest merchants who will try to use that information to take advantage of you.
- Be very careful when you encounter testimonials from your fellow servicemembers or from veterans working for merchants. Many scammers set up their businesses near military bases and hire veterans as salespeople, in an attempt to prey on the trust between military personnel. Sometimes they also offer special deals or discounts to servicemembers in exchange for promoting their goods and services to other members of the military. You should be aware of these practices and careful about relying on claims that seem too good to be true.
- Know all the terms of any installment purchase you make and look out for attempts to hide any terms from you. Salespeople will often focus a servicemember’s attention on the monthly payment for a particular purchase, which can distract attention from a sales price inflated well beyond what a buyer would ordinarily pay. Beware of bait and switch tactics and never sign incomplete documents or contracts you have not reviewed in detail.
- If you are a victim of consumer fraud, law enforcement is here to help. Contact your local district attorney, consumer affairs department, or the California Attorney General’s Office.
- The Federal Trade Commission maintains a website full of resources for military consumers.
- Servicemembers in need of legal assistance should start by contacting their local JAG legal assistance office or the California National Guard legal assistance program.
- Veterans in need of legal assistance may want to start with LawHelpCa, a website with veteran-specific resources and links to legal aid organizations that offer FREE legal help.
- Consumers can report predatory consumer activity targeting servicemembers, veterans, or anyone else, to the Office of the Attorney General. To submit a complaint, please use one of the following forms: