Vet­er­ans be­ing tar­geted by con artists Fraud­sters’ scams, schemes de­tailed dur­ing Se­nate panel hear­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY MIKE GLENN

Even a mem­ber of Con­gress can find her­self tar­geted by scam­mers.

Sen. Martha McSally, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and for­mer Air Force pi­lot, last week held up the lat­est in a se­ries of mail­ings show­ing up in her mail­box nearly ev­ery week.

The let­ter was filled with con­fus­ing jar­gon about VA loans and re­quests for per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, Ms. McSally told a Se­nate Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Ag­ing hear­ing, and it was clear the sender was us­ing her sta­tus as a mil­i­tary vet­eran to try to bilk her out of cash.

“They are prey­ing on our vet­er­ans,” Ms. McSally said. “It’s mis­lead­ing and it’s con­fus­ing. They’re rob­bing them of their hard-earned re­sources.”

Law­mak­ers heard sto­ries of how vet­er­ans — es­pe­cially older ones — are be­ing tar­geted by scam­mers look­ing to make a quick buck off those who have worn the na­tion’s uni­form.

“Vet­er­ans are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by these schemes. But there is also trou­bling ev­i­dence that some fraud­sters are de­lib­er­ately struc­tur­ing their scams to tar­get vet­er­ans,” said com­mit­tee Chair­woman Su­san Collins, Maine Repub­li­can. In one re­cent case, a con artist from Michi­gan was con­victed of steal­ing nearly $200,000 from 36 vic­tims who thought they were do­nat­ing to char­i­ties ben­e­fit­ing vet­er­ans.

“Not only did vet­er­ans never see a dime of this money, the fraud­ster added in­sult to in­jury by steal­ing the vic­tims’ per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able in­for­ma­tion to com­mit iden­tity theft,” Ms. Collins said.

LaVerne Fore­man, 82, served in the Air Force, the Army Re­serve and the Army Na­tional Guard. He told the sen­a­tors he doesn’t like to ac­knowl­edge he also was tar­geted by fraud­sters.

“It isn’t easy to talk about be­ing scammed, but what I am do­ing to­day is an ex­ten­sion of my ser­vice,” Mr. Fore­man said. “I feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity to warn oth­ers who served to be vig­i­lant against scam artists.”

In 2014, he re­ceived a call from an or­ga­ni­za­tion call­ing it­self the Dis­abled and Par­a­lyzed Vet­er­ans Fund. He sent the group $20, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion kept com­ing back ask­ing for more money.

“I grew even more sus­pi­cious but be­lieved it might have just been fundrais­ing tac­tics of a le­git­i­mate or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said.

But the scam­mers had ob­tained his ac­count num­ber and bank rout­ing in­for­ma­tion and used it for yet another do­na­tion.

“I was shocked. I had not spo­ken to that or­ga­ni­za­tion or sent a re­cent do­na­tion. I re­al­ized that I was scammed,” Mr. Fore­man told the sen­a­tors.

Ms. Collins said law­mak­ers are weigh­ing leg­is­la­tion to en­hance the pun­ish­ment for fraud tar­get­ing mil­i­tary vet­er­ans. It would be mod­eled on bills in­tro­duced against robo­call op­er­a­tors.

The cur­rent penal­ties “are not suf­fi­cient to de­ter these peo­ple,” Ms. Collins said.

Penn­syl­va­nia Sen. Bob Casey, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, cited a 2017 AARP sur­vey that found 16% of U.S. vet­er­ans have lost money to con artists, while 78% have been tar­geted by scams specif­i­cally crafted to ex­ploit their ser­vice his­tory.

“If we are to be wor­thy of the valor of our vet­er­ans, this num­ber should be zero,” he said. “We must not stop with just this hear­ing.”

Mr. Casey said the com­mit­tee will be send­ing a let­ter to the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion ask­ing of­fi­cials to do more to fight fraud tar­get­ing vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies and bet­ter co­or­di­nate their ef­forts.

“The VA lacks a cen­tral clear­ing­house for so­lic­it­ing and collecting in­for­ma­tion on potential fi­nan­cial ex­ploita­tion of vet­er­ans re­ceiv­ing pen­sion ben­e­fits,” Mr. Casey said. “To say this is trou­bling is an un­der­state­ment.”

Vet­eran scams should be a higher pri­or­ity at the VA,” Ms. Collins said. “It would not take a lot of ad­di­tional re­sources,” she said.

The VA could act as a clear­ing­house and for­ward the re­ports from vet­er­ans to other agen­cies such as the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion or the De­part­ment of Jus­tice, she added.


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