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Utah officials warn of new scams targeting veterans

A small American flag waves in the wind after bering placed on the Veterans Memorial at the Memorial Redwood Mortuary and Cemetery on Sunday, May 24, 2020. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, various scams have popped up in an effort to steal money and personal information from innocent civilians. Now, the state of Utah is warning the public of new scams targeting military veterans. 

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection and Department of Veterans and Military Affairs said it will raise awareness and get the word out to military veterans and their families about the scams. 

“Our veterans have already done so much for their communities, they deserve better. Scammers have no low they won’t stoop to in their schemes,” said Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Division of Consumer Protection, in a statement Monday. “Veterans and their families need to be wary to protect themselves.”

The veterans’ scams to look out for 

There have been two different scam reports from the same person aimed at veterans, according to O’Bannon.

“The first one she got a phone call from someone claiming to be with the FBI calling on behalf of a veterans charity,” O’Bannon told KSL NewsRadio. That’s considered an immediate red flag because government agencies will never ask for money, according to O’Bannon. 

The second scam specifically targets veterans with governmental benefits. A scammer called the same woman who received the first call stating her spouse qualified for some additional benefits.

O’Bannon said the only information scammers need to steal someone’s identity is their social security number, date of birth and veterans identification number. However, someone asking for all of that information is a sign it’s a scam. 

“First of all, that’s stuff [personal information] the government would already have, right? Second of all, that’s just not how it works,” said O’Bannon. “You don’t get a phone call from the government saying we have an extra benefit for you [and] all you have to do is give us all this information.” 

O’Bannon said the only thing most scammers are looking for is money. 

“So the first example, donate to this charity, that’s a way to get money directly,” said O’Bannon. “The second thing scammers often look for is information because they can turn that information into money.”

Why veterans scams? 

It’s not totally clear why a person would swindle money from a veteran, because it’s largely unheard of to target that population, according to O’Bannon. However, it’s a convincing cause when many people have a soft spot for supporting veterans.

“We all want to support those who have sacrificed on our behalf to give us what we have, right?” O’Bannon said. “That could be one component of it. Finding a charitable cause that is of importance to people that may tug at the heartstrings a little bit, for good reason.”  

But it’s a different story when it comes to targeting VA benefits.

“There’s a little bit of built-in credibility there to say, ‘You’re a veteran, we have information for you about benefits,'” O’Bannon said. 

For example, the scam report relayed to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection said the veteran was able to access more benefits in exchange for personal information.

“The report we received was that the scammer said something along the lines of you’ll receive an increase in your compensatory benefits of $400,” O’Bannon said. “Yeah, sounds pretty good, right? Sign me up.” 

Stopping the scammers 

Tracking down and putting a stop to scammers turns out to be a pretty hard task. Those involved in scamming have the ability to hide their identity well and it’s difficult to track their whereabouts. 

According to Bannon, the people facilitating these scams usually live overseas and use technology to make them untraceable. 

“Oftentimes what we find is people committing these types of scams are overseas,” he said. “Or, even if they are domestically located in the United States, they may be using spoofing technology can be very hard to find scammers like this.”

He said the best way to learn about scams is for people to report them.

“We want to hear from people if they’ve given money to a scammer. That could make it a little easier, potentially for us to track,” O’Bannon said. “But sometimes the way to stop this kind of scam is just to get the word out because it can be hard to know where they are.” 

Additionally, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection isn’t able to prosecute scammers. 

“Our agency, specifically as a civil enforcement agency […] can’t prosecute anybody and put them in jail,” O’Bannon said. “We can issue fines. We can also go to a court and ask a court to stop the conduct from happening. Other agencies could potentially criminally enforce. The big question is: Can we find them?” 

And it’s not easy to discover scammers. Most scammers use a “spoofed” number, which is essentially a fake phone number that is untraceable. Due to advanced technology, scammers are able to cover their footsteps unless someone gives them money.

“Unless they [the scammer] take money from someone using a credit card or a check or something that’s traceable,” it’s difficult to find the scammer, according to O’Bannon. 

“If it’s a phone number that people can call back, that’s the actual phone number the scammer is using that gives us something to go on,” O’Bannon said. “And we can use the investigative tools we have to try and take action as appropriate.”

‘Do your research’ 

The biggest piece of advice O’Bannon can give is for people to do their homework before forking over money or personal information.  

“Don’t act in the moment. Take the time to do your research,” advised O’Bannon. “If somebody asks for money, hang up. Do the research. Scammers will try and use fear. They’ll try and use greed and they’ll try and make things happen right now to get money.”

For more information on possible scams visit here. To report a scam, visit here. If you have questions about your veterans’ benefits, visit here. For information about military benefits, call 801-326-2372.