What military retirees need to know about fraud
By EMILY LYTLE | Dover Post, Del. | Published: September 5, 2019
DOVER, Del. (Tribune News Service) — A woman in her 70s had recently inherited about a million dollars when she heard a knock on the door. The man on her doorstep told her that her home needed some work, and they started chatting.
He informed her that she had a rodent infestation, and she paid him to fix the problem.
Investigators later found that this man had bought little brown mice from a pet store and placed them in the woman's home, scamming her.
He conned her emotionally, too. He found out that this woman was a widow and took advantage of her loneliness.
"She's still in love with the guy," said Joe Rago, special investigator for the Delaware Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit.
Rago told this true story as one of the panelists at the elderly financial fraud workshop hosted by Cooperative Credit Union Association and the Dover Federal Credit Union on Aug. 27.
Military retirees like Earl Brown, who served in the Army for 22 years, attended the breakfast-and-learn workshop at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino to learn how to protect himself from fraud and scams.
"There are so many scams going on that you're not even aware of," Brown said.
Another draw for the more than 80 veterans, caregivers and family members who attended was a guest appearance by Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine, a 16-year Navy veteran who has devoted much of his life to giving back to the military community.
"Be careful with your money because it's hard-earned," Irvine said. He warned the audience to be wary of what they put on their phones and social media, especially when leaving for vacations.
The Dover Federal Credit Union donated $15,000 to the Robert Irvine Foundation, the chef's nonprofit he founded six years ago to serve the military community.
Know who you're paying
Seniors lose almost $40 billion each year from financial fraud and scams, according to the CCUA, which hosts seminars with credit unions in Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Chief lending officer for the Dover Federal Credit Union Vince Setnar said the issue demands increasing awareness from military retirees and seniors in our community.
"The fact of the matter is it's happening more frequently than ever before," Setnar said.
Walt Lasko, CCUA senior vice president of communication, opened the workshop by giving examples of fraud and hailing education as the best way to fight against everything from IRS scams to manipulative pen pals.
"You have these scammers who go after people who have given so much. That is absolutely wrong," Lasko said, commenting on the risks that military retirees face.
The executive director of the Delaware Commission of Veteran Affairs, Larence Kirby, cautioned veterans to be especially aware of calls from organizations claiming to serve veteran-related causes.
"Don't let your heart strings get tugged because you want to assist veterans," Kirby said. While he said it's good that more people are empathetic and appreciative toward veterans, frauds can take advantage.
"If you receive an inquiry, do your research to ensure it's a legitimate cause," he said. People can contact the Delaware Commission of Veteran Affairs for help verifying an organization, he said.
Another quick verification test? Ask about their military time. A veteran himself, Kirby said he can tell if a person is real if they share similar knowledge of basic training or military acronyms.
Irvine agreed, stressing how important it is to verify the identity of anyone you're giving money to.
"I don't trust anybody," Irvine said. Even if someone asking for a donation shows a badge, he said it's important to verify those credentials with the police department.
Stories of fraud
A panelist from AARP, associate state director for communication Kim Iapalucci, said that 87% of AARP members reported that fraud protection was a major concern for them.
Iapalucci talked about the common grandparent scam when a stranger calls impersonating a senior's grandchild and asks for money, implying that he or she is in jail or in trouble.
"It's scary because they know your grandchild's name, where they went to college," Iapalucci said, adding that one caller even used a specific dialect of the Chinese language to target a victim.
Moderator Kathryn Alt, a local radio host with iHeart Radio, shared her own story of fraud. She was buying a dog online, where she could see the dog's picture and name. But, the website was a scam, and the dog was fake.
"What terrifies me is these people are really good actors and actresses," Alt said.
During the panel, attendees had several opportunities to share their stories, from phone calls claiming their social security number was suspended to suspicious emails.
"It's good to know that I'm not the only one that this is happening to," said Lillie Volckmann, a former Department of Defense employee. Volckmann said that someone claiming to be the IRS called to tell her that her Social Security card would be invalid by the end of the business day.
In cases like this, panelists advised attendees like Volckmann to hang up the phone and verify any suspicious calls. The CCUA's website recommends calling the IRS or visiting a local office if unsure.
Isaiah Moskowitz, CEO of LTI Business Solution, works with the CCUA in promoting educational tools, like their free online course at bettervaluesbetterbanking.com.
He said that it's important that bank tellers and bystanders know the warning signs.
In one instance, a cab driver prevented a woman from losing thousands of dollars, Moskowtiz shared. She told him, while riding in his taxi to Walgreens, that someone asked her to buy $5,000 in gift cards. He took her to the police department, instead.
"It's not going to stop, but if we can stop these things from happening, it's a win," Moskowitz said.
Several panelists and experts advised against trusting Caller ID. If someone is impersonating the police department, the call may appear as if it's coming from the Delaware State Police.
"The police don't call your house and ask for money," Moskowitz said.
Travis Frey, chief innovation officer at the Dover Federal Credit Union, said that con artists will try to trick people through email. However, you can plug their email address into a website and immediately know where they're located in the world, he said.
"It's about changing your mindset: 'I'm not going to wait to be a victim. I'm going to put things in front of it before I can become a victim,'" Frey said.
As the workshop was coming to a close, Rago advised everyone to be careful at gas stations and only use pumps in populated areas.
Thieves can add Bluetooth readers to the credit card mechanism and steal your information, Rago said. Before swiping your card, he recommended you pull on the mechanism to make sure it hasn't been tampered with.
Attendee Zulma Perez said she had her credit card information stolen. While she was using the card at a gas station in New Jersey, her credit card company alerted her that someone else was using it in Florida.
"What I learned today was that there are a lot of people out there, not only myself, that have been put through some kind of scam, whether it's through the phone [or] through a credit card," Perez said.