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They have bravely served and protected our country, and yet, they are targeted every day by con artists trying to swindle a deal. These bad guys call, pretending to be old friends, offering “sure thing” investments, finding ways to steal their money. The data confirms suspicions: One in three victims of investment fraud in America are military veterans, a recent AARP study found. And the situation is only getting worse: There has been a 65 percent increase in fraud complaints from vets over the past five years, notes the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel.

Savvy scammers know ways to take advantage of the unique circumstances of military life.  From exploiting frequent transfers to new communities to tugging at the heart strings of loved ones and patriotic citizens, it is difficult to stay one step ahead of the wolves. And there are plenty to protect just in our home state. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington is home to more than half a million veterans and two million family members.

To help stop these crimes and stand up on behalf of veterans, AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service have teamed up to launch Operation Protect a Veteran. The goal: engage thousands of people to watch for suspicious solicitations that target military veterans. Gathered reports will be used to build tools and methods to protect veterans from the latest scams.

To participate in Operation Protect a Veteran, simply look for suspicious emails, phone calls or traditional mail that target veterans and report it to the Operation Protect a Veteran campaign.

Not sure if it is a scam or not? Doesn’t matter. Send the tip along anyway.  Not sure what to look for?

Here are some examples of verified scams.

Update your military file

A caller claims to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs and asks to “update” your information, but really is hoping to get personal information to be used to steal your credit.

Mortgage refinancing

Predatory lending is still on the radar. This scams targets military families and veterans – via phone, email or direct mail – “guaranteeing” incredibly low interest rates. Some imply they are authorized by the VA or the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan program. The biggest red flag is the word “guarantee.” Real lending companies would never guarantee a rate before running your credit numbers.

Cash for benefits

Scammers target veterans in need of money by offering cash in exchange for their future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit. Not only is this a financial rip off, it could also lead to losing eligibility for benefits like Medicaid and other assistance programs.

Veterans Choice Program fake phone number

The Veterans Choice Program lets eligible veterans visit approved medical providers who are outside of the Veterans Affairs network. Scammers have exploited human error and set up a fake telephone line that closely mimics VCP’s real phone number.  When vets call, thinking they have reached the VCP, they hear a recorded message that dangles the promise of a rebate if provided a credit card number. The scammers then debit the credit card leaving the vet with a financial charge and nothing in return except for the lengthy process of cancelling the credit card.

Charity scams

A caller claims to be raising money for disabled veterans or veterans with cancer or a similar cause. But often, the so-called charity is not registered with the government and/or uses most of the money to raise more funds and pay their salaries. To verify if a charity is on the up and up, do a little research on sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar, to find out if the charity is legitimate and see how much of their fundraising actually goes toward the charity’s mission.

Veteran families

These solicitations don’t target vets but their families, using the word “Veteran,” or purporting to help veterans, to get you to say “yes.” If it sounds suspicious, report it.

VA loan modification

The scammers contact military families offering to help refinance their VA loans and then ask for upfront fees. They never provide the promised loan.

If you have received solicitations like this recently that seem even slightly suspicious, report it to Operation Protect a Veteran. You don’t need to have absolute proof in order to report a suspicious solicitation. You can report it by sending an email describing the potential scam to protectavet@aarp.org. You also can take a picture of the potential scam mailing or email with your smartphone and email it to the same address.

Finally, you can call (855) 800-9023 and leave a detailed message. Your reports will be held in confidence by AARP and will be used solely for consumer education purposes only. Your name will not be made public.

Thank you for helping us serve the veterans who have served us so admirably!

AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. AARP advocates for what matters most to families, focusing on health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment.