Believe it or not, there are numerous online scams specifically designed to target members of the military and their families. What’s more, they work: research shows that not only are military personnel more susceptible to these scams, they lose almost 30% more money on average than non-military victims.
So what are the most common military scams and why are members of the armed forces such lucrative targets? We’ll answer both of these questions below, as well as explain how you can protect yourself from online scams and ID theft.
Types of online military scam
Scammers are extremely crafty. They play upon your doubts and conscience to trick you, and as this is often a full-time job for them, they know which methods are most likely to part you from your money. Below, you’ll find some of the most commonly-used military scams:
- Romance scams: This is one of the most common online scams, and a major problem for the armed forces. In fact, one service member’s photo was used on over 3,000 fake social media accounts. A scammer impersonates a member of the military online and builds a relationship with the victim. However, sooner or later the scammer will ask for money, usually for equipment, flights home, or bribes.
- Grandparent scams: You’re contacted by someone claiming to know your friend, partner, or family member in the military. They inform you that this person needs money urgently: maybe they’ve been arrested, or can’t afford to pay for their flight home. Remember: while these messages can be convincing, names and locations can often be found on the victim’s social media accounts.
- Sextortion scams: A service member (or their partner) is convinced to perform sexual acts on camera. The scammer then threatens to release the video if the victim doesn’t pay. However, if you send any money, it’s likely you’ll be threatened again in future.
- Fake military job scams: You apply for a job and the interviewer (if there is one) doesn’t seem to care about your experience and immediately tells you you’re hired. Then, they either request a processing fee or ask for lots of personal information including but not limited to: your Social Security number, your birth certificate, your driver’s license, or passport. In reality, there is no job, and you’ve just had your money and/or details stolen.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
Data shows that online scams are on the rise, and that’s before you consider that many victims fail to report them. We know you’re likely feeling ashamed or embarrassed but it’s important to move quickly if you’ve been scammed:
- First, contact your bank and credit card company to let them know. They’ll be able to prevent any future transactions and perhaps even recover some of your money.
- Freeze your credit to prevent your scammer from applying for loans or making purchases with your details.
- Report the scam to the police. If your scammer was in a different country, the police might not be able to help directly but they can refer it to a larger agency or at the very least, make a record of the incident.
- If you allowed anyone to connect to your computer remotely, shut it down immediately. Afterwards, run a thorough virus and malware scan to make sure they didn’t install any malicious software. Finally, change the passwords to any account you logged into whilst the scammer was connected.
- Let your friends and family know; it’s bad enough that this has happened once, but there’s no guarantee that the same scammer isn’t targeting other people close to you.
How to protect yourself from online military scams
These types of scams exploit the distance between members of the military and their families, as well as the fact that most people don’t know much about military protocol. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Trust your instincts: if someone you know has suddenly created a new social media account, is talking strangely, and doesn’t seem like themselves, you’re likely talking with a scammer.
- Take everything with a pinch of salt; scammers love a sob story. If you’re romantically involved with someone who claims to be in the military, you’ll almost certainly hear about their dead wife, sick child, or the squadmates your partner has supposedly lost.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know. It doesn’t matter if they claim to be your partner’s commanding officer or even their lawyer: the military will reach out to friends or family for money.
- Be wary of anyone who claims to need money urgently. This is a trick, designed to put pressure on you and stop you from thinking about their request rationally.
- If you’re asked to send money using a service like Western Union or prepaid gift cards, it is almost certainly a scam. These payment methods are effectively impossible to reverse, which is why they’re so popular with scammers. Think about it: why would a member of the military request hundreds of dollars in iTunes vouchers?
Given the sheer number of online scams and the ease at which they can be adapted to prey upon military families, it pays to be vigilant. These scams aren’t going away any time soon, but by following the steps above, you should be able to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.