Personal Finance

These scammers have set their sights on members of the military

Key Points
  • Romance scams, where fraudsters target deployed military personnel or impersonate a U.S. soldier and sweet talk victims out of their money, are the most commonly reported complaints, according to the U.S. Army.
  • Veterans and members of the military lost $405 million to scams since 2012, according to an analysis from Comparitech.
  • In one major scam, Rome Finance deceived about 17,000 service members in a predatory lending scheme, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mark Edward Atkinson/Tracey Lee | Tetra images | Getty Images

Military combat isn't the only battle service members are fighting. Fraudsters have fleeced soldiers and veterans to the tune of $405 million since 2012.

Those were the findings of a recent data analysis by Comparitech. The consumer technology website analyzed scam data through the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

"Scammers target active duty members and veterans," said Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate for Comparitech.

A charity honors fallen veterans this Veterans Day
A charity honors fallen veterans this Veterans Day

"These are repackaged scams that affect everyone, but it may be that members of the military are more susceptible or the scams are tailored to them," he said.

Below are the fraud schemes that have led to the steepest losses for military personnel, according to Comparitech.

Banks and lenders: $111.7 million

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These rip-offs can vary from phony investments to "guaranteed" offers of credit.

In one notorious example, Colfax Capital Corp. and Culver Capital — known as Rome Finance — ensnared 17,000 service members in a massive predatory lending scheme to buy computers and video game consoles, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Not only was Rome Finance not licensed to provide consumer lending in any state; it also charged interest rates up to and over 100%, the bureau found.

The regulator and 13 state attorneys general obtained $92 million in debt relief for the affected military personnel.

Impostor schemes: $99.9 million

Young Woman Online Video Chatting With Man On Laptop In Living Room
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Impostor scams can run the gamut from fake employers to fraudsters impersonating authority figures.

Romance schemes are the most commonly reported fraud, according to the U.S. Army.

In this case, predators may impersonate active-duty soldiers on dating sites and then sweet talk victims out of their cash.

Predators have also lured service members into sharing compromising photos and videos, and then demanded money in exchange for not publicizing the embarrassing images.

Scammers have also impersonated employers in a bid to get veterans to purchase work equipment from a third party and then abscond with the money.

Military consumers reported a median loss of $2,460 from impostor-employer scams, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Benefit scams: $28.7 million

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Bad actors can steal service members' identities and then use them to collect military benefits or file phony tax returns.

In August, the Department of Justice charged five people in an identity theft and fraud scheme, wherein they allegedly used stolen identities to plunder millions of dollars in benefits from elderly and disabled veterans.

Debt collection: $25.8 million

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Civilians and military personnel are protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which says that debt collectors can't make false statements about how much you owe and they can't threaten to have you arrested.

If a debt collector harasses or threatens you, hang up the phone; it's probably a scam.

However, if you actually owe money, ask the collector for a written notice about the debt, known as verification. This should include the name of the creditor, the amount owed and a notice that you can dispute the debt.

Phony sweepstakes and prizes: $25.3 million

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Any prize that requires you to pay a fee to collect should set off a red flag.

Last year, 7,146 individuals said they fell victim to a sweepstakes scheme, according to data from the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Other scammers pretend to be affiliated with charitable organizations in order to scam military personnel out of their cash.

"A lot of times they target service members by using military sounding names or logos, or they might claim to help members of the military with scholarships," said Bischoff. "In reality, these are fake organizations."

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