It’s our turn to protect vets targeted by scammers

By CARROLL HARRIS | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: May 7, 2021

During my time in the U.S. Marine Corps — which included serving on active duty in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom — I saw the bravery and sacrifice our nation’s veterans made firsthand, including the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. I’m also currently a postal inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and throughout my 16 years in law enforcement, I, and other postal inspectors have seen how our veterans have been victimized by scammers.
When you think about the unique knowledge veterans possess concerning Department of Veterans Affairs programs and other benefits that are exclusive to them, as well as the fact that veterans share a unique and special bond with each other, it’s not surprising that research conducted by AARP shows veterans are twice as likely to be victims of scams as members of the general public. Simply put, they’re too lucrative a target to ignore.
While this and other statistics provide the facts, they don’t convey the real impact and devastation on our nation’s veterans. Postal inspectors like me, as well as other federal, state and local law enforcement professionals, have witnessed veterans lose their life savings and even their homes as a result of these scams. Another dimension to this is that many of these veterans are elderly, and in addition to not being able to make up the financial ground they lose, they fear losing their independence if they report these scams, which only serves to give the scammers vital cover to target more veterans.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 18 million veterans in the U.S. Most of us either have a veteran or veterans in our family, or we know someone who has served. Think of the impact on them and the people who love and care about them if they were to be taken advantage of by scammers. 
Along with most Americans, I was brought up to believe that if someone does something good for you, you should at least make an attempt to reciprocate. While the freedom and security our nation’s veterans have given all of us is an enormous gift, there is something each of us can do to, at least in some small way, repay them. As May is Military Appreciation Month, I challenge everyone to not only use this month as an opportunity to thank our nation’s veterans for their service, but also use it as the start of your efforts to get educated on scams targeting veterans and then spread the word in order to both help and protect them and to stop the scammers in their tracks. 
The good news is that many of the things we postal inspectors tell ordinary Americans to do in order to protect themselves from scams also applies to veterans. This includes not giving out personal information over the phone. Don’t be pressured to act immediately. Don’t act on any offer before checking it out with a trusted family member, friend or local Veterans Affairs office. Always keep in mind the saying that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I ask all people, if you haven’t already, to encourage and support a veteran who has been targeted by scammers to step forward and report it to law enforcement, so you can “have your buddy’s back,” and prevent veterans from becoming targets. 
Our nation’s veterans have protected us. Let this Military Appreciation Month be the catalyst to help protect them.
Carroll Harris has over 29 years of government service, including with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.