Report: Military members at higher risk of loss from scams, fraud

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – John Michael Poling served in the U.S. Army as a cryptographer, using computer science to protect military information from security threats. When it came time for life after the military, he took on more technology-based jobs like directing calls.

“I was looking for a job because Citel was closing down and they were helping out and trying to find us jobs. Everyone there was applying for jobs, like several a day. I tried to do 3-4 applications a day just to get something I would want to do after that,” said Poling. “In the middle of that, probably towards the end of where my particular program at Citel was closing down, I got a notification, a text, just like I would’ve gotten from any other employer that I’ve had.”

That notification turned into a new opportunity. Poling soon started the interview process.

“We were taking inbound calls, helping people whether it’s tech support, customer service, they’re trying to pay for something,” said Poling. “Just like anything else I had been applying for, there were all these steps involved that made it feel just like any other job.”

Poling got an offer but it wasn’t just like any other job. They wanted him to buy equipment to work from home and they would send him the money to buy it all.

“They sent me a list of equipment that I was going to need and that they were going to send me a work order or check to take to them and say hey I’m from this business, can you go ahead and whatever that work order is for said equipment,” said Poling. “Through FedEx I got the check and I took it to my bank to deposit it and make sure it was a good check or whatever and they were fine with it and said everything should be just fine.”

Poling returned to Citel to turn in his badge. Luckily, he told someone else about his new opportunity and it sounded all too familiar.

“I went back to Citel to turn in my badge because I’m quitting, here’s my badge, I got a new job already, thanks a lot, and I just happened to barely describe what was happening to me,” said Poling. “One of the other coaches there stopped me and explained everything that had happened to me because it happened to his wife. That’s the only way I found out about it.”

The man told Poling these scammers often will either ask for the victim to send the full amount back or mention that they sent the “wrong amount,” asking to send a specific part of that back. Poling returned to his bank and explained the situation and sure enough, it was a bad check. Poling then got the Better Business Bureau involved.

“After that, I went and contacted the Better Business Bureau or State Attorney General,” said Poling. “They advised me to stop all contact, not talk to them, don’t respond to them, hold on to any paperwork they may have sent you or any conversations you may have had.”

The bureau did a study, finding military members are at a higher risk of scams and loss. Poling recalls the scammers even asking if he served.

“They asked about my service, if I served, and if I had documentation of my service record and stuff,” said Poling, also including that he sent much of his information in, including copies of his birth certificate, driver’s license, and other verifying documents.

The Better Business Bureau says many reported scams when moving to different cities and transferring military bases, and those who served — and got scammed — lost an average of $50 more than others. Military consumers lost a median of $200 when falling victim to a scam — a 32-percent difference from the $152 median loss reported by all consumers in 2018.

“Employment scams were the riskiest scams for military consumers, as they were for all consumers in 2018, according to the BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report,” said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of BBB.

The BBB hopes educating bankers and military families will help prevent these scams in the future. They offer online reporting through their scam tracker and what they find helps people keep an eye out.

“There are legal protections in place to support service members and their families in the marketplace, but scammers don’t care about what is legal or ethical,” said Steven Lepper, president and CEO of the Association of Military Banks of America. “Education is our best defense to prevent military consumers from losing their money to fraudsters.”

Poling says he’s just glad he caught the scam early and didn’t lose money.

“I thought I couldn’t get conned. I really did,” said Poling. “That was just really, really lucky. I was really lucky.”

The BBB’s full military scam report is available online. It also features resources and tools for service members.

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