This week, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) announced the launch of a new Military Consumer Protection page on the FDACS website, joining the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Defense, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in educating military communities on how to protect against scams.
First launched in 2013 as Military Consumer Protection Day, Military Consumer Month is now a month-long education campaign throughout July.
“Florida is proud to be home to over 69,000 active-duty military personnel, over 205,000 military retirees, and over 1.5 million veterans. Military members and their families endure great hardships to serve and defend our nation. Despite these sacrifices, there are those that would take advantage of these Floridians and their families through scams,” said Fried. “My Department has fought against these scammers by enhancing the capabilities of our Consumer Services Division and actively investigating bad actors that use illegal and deceptive methods towards Florida’s military communities. While we have made great progress in protecting service members and their families from scams, we know there is still more work to be done.
“We are proud to stand with our federal partners in continuing the tradition of highlighting the actions and resources that military consumers and their families can use to protect against scams during Military Consumer Month – and year-round,” Fried continued. “To further enhance awareness among Florida’s military communities, we have launched a new Military Consumer Protection webpage to provide information and resources related to scams and consumer protection. My message to scammers that would take advantage of our service members is this: we will not allow for it and you will not get away with it. We will find out and find you, shut you down, and hold you accountable.”
In 2019, Fried directed the FDACS Consumer Services Division to begin tracking complaints submitted by service members and veterans. Since then, FDACS has received over 3,200 such complaints. Fried’s office noted this data will be helpful in identifying patterns about the specific types of scams that military members and veterans encounter.
FDACS has also been active in investigating bad actors that use illegal and deceptive methods in relation to military and veterans communities. In 2020, FDACS conducted an investigation into Children of Wounded Warriors, Inc., also known as the National Foundation For Children Of Wounded Warriors, which claimed to be raising money for the children of injured or slain military service members and first responders. The investigation concluded that the organization engaged in the improper and personal use of funds, committed perjury, misled donors, and was involved in other illicit actions. The group’s charity status was revoked, and they were fined $60,000.
Most recently in March 2022, the FDACS Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE) arrested a Florida resident for operating fraudulently as president of the Florida-based charity Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard (VAVB) after an investigation revealed the individual had provided false information to FDACS and was still operating the charity after its registration was suspended.
While service members and veterans are prone to many of the same scams as civilians, there are some that disproportionately affect the military community. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Military OneSource program has identified the most common scams that target military communities:
Rental property scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base. Scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties on websites, sometimes promising military discounts and other incentives. They try to get service members to send them money for fees and deposits upfront – and the victim ends up with no money and no place to live. If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been seen, it is probably a rental scam.
DFAS/MyPay phishing scams try to steal a service member’s identity by getting Social Security numbers, bank accounts and other personal information. The scammer pretends to be from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service or another military group and contacts members or their spouses by phone, email, or text. They may claim that due to computer problems, your information was lost and needs to be reentered to process payments. In other cases, their emails contain links or attachments that can put malware on computers to steal passwords and account information. Service members should never give personal information to someone they don’t know. Also, DFAS and other military organizations never ask for personal financial information, account numbers, or passwords.
Payday loans are unsecured loans for small amounts – generally $500 or less – that charge big interest rates and fees. (A typical two-week payday loan charging $15 per $100 borrowed equals an annual percentage rate of almost 400 percent). Many payday loan companies operate online and advertise “fast cash” and “no credit required.” Active duty service members are protected from payday loans by the Military Lending Act, which keeps lenders from gouging military personnel with high-interest rates and fees. Even with these protections, service members need to watch out for lenders who may charge illegally high interest rates and fees.
Loan and credit card scams prey on service members who may be considering getting their first credit card or applying for a loan but have no credit record. Service members should watch out for scammers who offer credit cards and loans with ads saying “Bad credit? No credit? No problem” or “We don’t care about your past. You deserve a loan.” They may also “guarantee” that they can get anyone a loan or credit card.
Insurance scams occur when insurance agents use high-pressure tactics to get military personnel to buy insurance they don’t need. They make phony claims about policy benefits, which are expensive and most likely unnecessary. If you are a service member who is considering life insurance, consider taking advantage of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, government-issued insurance that provides quality insurance at a low price.
Car sale scams occur when car dealers that require no credit check and offer instant approval often charge hidden fees and high-interest rates that inflate the cost of the vehicle. First- or second-time car buyers may not be aware of this. Before you sign a contract, consider comparison shopping with other dealerships to make sure you are getting a fair deal. If you are buying a used car, ask for its repair history and get a mechanic to look it over before purchase.
Romance scams occur when scammers post fake profiles on dating websites to attract service members. If a service member responds to one of these profiles, the scammer may make advances to make them feel loved and appreciated. Then they will ask for money – usually by wire transfer or prepaid debit card – so they can come visit, pay for a car repair, or even for a medical emergency. If a service member sends money, this fake profile will probably disappear, leaving them disappointed and with no chance of getting their money back. If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact right away and notify the dating site.
Emergency/grandparent scams take advantage of a family’s concern for their service member’s well-being. In this scam, a relative, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle, gets a call from their “niece,” “nephew” or “grandchild.” They are told there has been an emergency – such as an arrest or accident – and the service member needs money quickly. In some cases, the caller claims to be from the military or an attorney, who is acting on behalf of the service member. The scammer tells the family member to send money by wire or prepaid debit cards.
Covid-19 Scams prey on fears about the coronavirus, trying to trick service members and family members into revealing sensitive information or donating money to a fraudulent cause. Bogus emails that look legitimate can offer fake alerts or information about the outbreak, fake workplace policy updates, or fake medical advice. By clicking on links in these emails, you could download malware or have your identity stolen.
Other Military Scams to Avoid:
• Fake military charities prey on military families and have names that sound like real charities and often ask for money for wounded or disabled veterans.
• Phony debt collectors pose as legitimate debt collectors, contacting military personnel and try to pressure them into paying debts they don’t have.
• Credit monitoring scams target active duty members who are being deployed. They offer to monitor credit and defend against identity theft, but instead they use the victim’s credit information to go on a spending spree, leaving the victim to foot the bill.
File a Consumer Complaint with FDACS: Service members, veterans, and military family members who think they have fallen victim to a scam or experienced a solicitation which they believe could be a scam should file a consumer complaint with the FDACS Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-FL-AYUDA en Español), or online at FloridaConsumerHelp.com and report concerns to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint.
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