Military veterans are among the groups that scammers and criminals target, according to speakers addressing a group of LGBTQ veterans and friends gathered at the Center on Halsted on March. 16. The LGBTQ Veteran MeetUp was the first planned by the Chicago Chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights in a new quarterly series.
Julie Kenney spoke for the United States Postal Inspection Service ( USPIS ) on the many types of scams which can target veterans. Terri Worman, American Association of Retired People ( AARP ) Associate State Director for Advocacy and Outreach works to build AARP interaction with the LGBTQ community. She also works with AARP's Fraud Watch Network and spoke to the group on methods criminals use to perpetrate scams.
USPIS and AARP are working together on Operation Protect Veteran, a program to protect veterans from targeted scams.
Kenney presented on scams that have come to the attention of the postal inspection service, including phony sweepstakes, free prizes, free vacations, government lookalike mail, solicitations disguised as invoices, foreign lotteries, chain letters, charity frauds, phony inheritance schemes, home improvement or repair fraud and investment fraud. Some scams include surprise fees for normally free services, advance fees on loans, credit repair offers, credit-card schemes and work-at-home or franchise frauds, phony job opportunities, unsolicited merchandise, reshipping fraud and check scams.
Worman spoke about email and social media contacts from people trying to gather personal information to then sell to scammers, called phishing.
She gave examples of how people who think themselves too smart to getting taken in, can get taken in.
"If an email looks like it came from a friend, you don't have to automatically open it," she said. "Instead, click on the name itself to reveal the actual email address or origin. If you see an actual email address different that the name that appeared first, don't open but delete and let person or business being copied know. "
"If you learn from a friend that your own email hacked, change your password. We all have many passwords and changing them all is hard but necessary. Follow up by letting your list of friends know you've been hacked. "
She noted that opening doesn't automatically get you in trouble. The traps may lie in the next steps.
Worman herself once recieved a standard-looking Amazon message reading, "Your order is ready to ship."
"It was December and I am an Amazon customer. I immediately thought my back account had been hacked. It was just after Target had been hacked."
She also pointed out that things can come in showing completely authentic logos. "Don't be fooled, a real logo can be copied from Google and affixed to anything," she said. "A common pop-up, with an Amazon logo, says you've won a free gift card worth a minimum of $50. So you think, 'I might just get more than $50,' so you click, answer a few questions and they've got your info. That info is then sold to the highest bidder."
Those who send things like the Amazon email, she said, send it to thousands, not knowing whether or not their targets are Amazon customers, veterans or members of any target group.
"I'm not a veteran so I'll delete right away but so many people are Amazon shoppers or veterans or whatever, senders have a good chance of getting it to many members of the target groups," said Worman.
Many scam calls include a strategy to employ fear, insecurity and urgency to get you to make a quick and ill-informed choice. Many involve trying to establish a connection, a reason to trust.
For instance, in scams targeting grandparents or veterans, callers indentify themselves as grandkids in trouble to evoke fear or a fellow veteran to evoke trust in the hope that you'll respond to an urgent request.
"Grandmas, this is your grandson and I need help!"
"Johnny? Is that you?"
Then they have the information that you are a grandparent and your grandchild's name and can take it further based on that.
In another example, it has been in the news that Medicare will be sending out cards without social security numbers beginning in April and the criminals are playing on that. Fear of losing medical care can cause a vulnerable moment. Criminals are calling people, identifying themselves as affiliated with the Social Security Administration and asking for your personal information, including insurance provider, be provided immediately in that phone call or benefits will be at risk.
One note, the new cards are coming out in batches so it is not a concern if you see others getting them when you don't.
Worman advised those who check bank accounts online to do it regularly and often.
"Criminals pop in a $9.99 charge or $14.99 and you can't remember what you've charged and so you let it go. That's what the criminal is hoping you'll do. When you don't respond, it indicates to scammers that you are not watchful of your account and are open for a larger attack. Criminals are already successful if just a small percent of people don't challenge the charges," she said.
For those who don't do online banking and who's statements come in the mail, it is important to check them in the same way. She advised keeping track of when statements are expected and, if they don't come in, calingl to find out why. No show statements may indicate that someone has changed your address at the post office, which is all too easy for criminals to do.
"If you suspect something, most of those accounts have a banking fraud division, you can call to report." said Kelley. "They can check."
Worman advised getting a credit report once a year. You can see if someone else has opened an account in your name, is a payer for utilities in Indiana or bought a house.
The presenters recommended IdentifyTheft.gov . which starts at the beginning of the fraud reporting process and guidance through all the steps. Also, they said using Annualreport.com will allow people next year to start comparing each year's report to the previous year's.
Worman closed with "Everyone thinks they will never get scammed. But out there is a bad guy who can figure out what can work on you. Who can protect you from scammers? You. If you become a victor of ID fraud, it is hard."
Kelley added, "It is not if you'll be a victim but when. It then depends on how quickly you discover it and how you respond."
Hines and Jesse Brown Veterans Hospitals were sponsors of the event. Presenting on their LGBTQ veteran programs were Lorry Luscri, health promotion disease prevention program manager and LGBT veteran care coordinator at Hines Veterans Hospital; and Becky Powers, LCSW, MA, and LGBT veteran care coordinator at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
Luscri spoke of the relationship of the VA to LGBTQ veterans. The VA system has a non-discrimination policy and does training in LGBT needs and care. Luscri was a principle in creating the first Operation: Do Ask, Do Tell, a 2012 conference for GLBT veterans, servicemembers and their families, focusing on health needs and resources.
Staffmembers from Hines also provided on the spot enrollment for veterans benefits, flu shots and blood pressure checks for VA-enrolled veterans at the March 16 event.
The Veteran MeetUp series will continue on July 12 and Oct. 10, 4 to 7 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., in the John Baron Center on the second floor. The gatherings are designed to get veterans together for storytelling, support and socializing with other LGBTQ veterans, plus speakers, information on programs and services for veterans and light food and drink. Admission and food will be free and there will be a cash bar.
Terri Worman, associate state director for advocacy and outreach with the American Association of Retired People ( AARP ) Illinois, has been with the organization for 22 years and has been key in AAFRP outreach to and support of the LGBTQ community.
Further information on scams is available from:
American Veterans for Equal Rights, Chicago Chapter
Operation Protect Veterans
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
By Jean Albright, a 20 year U.S. Air Force veteran, secretary of the Chicago chapter of AVER and Director of New Media and Circulation for Windy City Times.