• To order credit reports, visit annualcreditreport.com
• To report a scam, visit www.ftc.gov or www.ic3.gov
Social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, do not require users to tell the truth. Scammers have been using fake accounts, with photos and information often stolen from other accounts, to pose as service members. After gaining the trust of the person they are targeting, thieves may walk away with money and never be caught.
Micheal Chesbro, criminal intelligence specialist at Directorate of Emergency Services at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said that if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
For the past year or so, Code Popping, the term used for getting ahold of someone’s bank account information has been steadily rising. Service members are targeted by people posing to be fellow enlisted in order to gain access to their USAA bank accounts. After gaining the trust of the account holder, the fake user asks for bank account numbers or passwords in order to allegedly transfer money in. However, that payout never comes and the service or family member loses their money.
“People fall for it because they think this is an Airmen, Sailor or other service member on the other end,” Chesbro said. “We take care of each other. If it was real service member that would be true and they would only want the best for you. The person running the scam isn’t real and does not follow those rules.”
This electronic version of check fraud is now a concern of USAA, which has released multiple statements and warnings to their customers. With scam artists often living out of the state, or even country, local police can do little to track them down once the money is gone.
Another popular way to steal money from service members is with fake debt.
“Those in the military are always moving around and it’s easy to accept that maybe you missed a bill here or there,” he said. “They use hardball tactics, resorting to threats and maybe foul language, while calling often to wear you down into sending them money.”
It is illegal for real debt collectors to use intimidation tactics, and outstanding bills are often sent by mail first. The Internal Revenue Service also contacts citizens using the mail system, not via email or phone, for outstanding back taxes. Often the con artists also want the payment sent through Western Union or other means that can’t be traced once the money is taken out of the bank account.
The best way to combat any debt fraud is by ordering a credit report either just once or up to three times a year for free. That way, any outstanding debt is right there and the business may be contacted directly. Credit reports can be ordered from annualcreditreport.com, a Federally approved site.
Those pretending to be service members may also gain the trust of others by using military ranks or titles. This is often seen in fake Craigslist ads, which promise to send items to the buyer after the money has been processed.
“They may use an excuse about being deployed and trying to sell a boat, for example,” Chesbro said. “They promise to have it delivered from a base to you, which isn’t possible through any official means.”
Chesbro encourages potential scam victims to take their time before accepting good deals. Researching the company or collection agency the person on the phone mentions by Google and the Better Business Bureau can uncover a fake or bad history. Getting in contact with the business a service member or family allegedly owes money to also helps them avoid getting their money stolen.
Most of these scams targeted at service members can be avoided by using tools they already have access to. Chesbro encourages those who feel they may be scammed to look up the alleged service member on global or have them send an email from their official email accounts. Any links or email addresses sent your way should not be used, he added. Email addresses can be masked to look official and if the email link is clicked on, the response may be sent back to the hidden address. Typing in the address manually ensures it goes to that exact email address, which may be sent back if the email is fake or compromised. DSN numbers, which cannot be fakes, are another good way to verify if the person is a service member.
“This is of course just a way to check,” he said. “A single email and phone call can help determine their identity, and then you can go back to using personal means of communication to finish the deal.”
For general cyber security, use the same tactics found through official military means of communication. Firewall and virus scan software is available for free to all service members through the AKO site. The use of strong passwords for all accounts is also important.
If someone is conned out of their money, they are encouraged to report it. The Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center keep track of new and growing approaches to cyber theft.
“What it really comes down to is just be skeptical,” Chesbro said. “Always check out what they are telling you over the phone or online because most officials don’t use that to contact people. Or, contact them using a number you find, don’t ever use the info a potential con artist tells