Last year we heard from nearly 2.7 million people about scams and other consumer problems they encountered. We’ve tallied the numbers and last week the FTC announced the 2017 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. We got more than 113,000 reports from military consumers. Although not all of them gave details about their military status, more than 28,000 are servicemembers, their family members, or inactive Reserve and National Guard, and more than 78,000 are military retirees or veterans. Identity Theft and imposter scams were among the top complaints for both the general population and the military community. Imposter scammers pretend to be someone you trust, to convince you to send them money or personal information. There are many variations on the scheme. Imposters may pretend to be calling from the government or from a business with technical support expertise. Others lie about being your online love or say that there’s an emergency with your family member. Nearly 1 in 5 of the 348,000 consumers who reported an imposter scam lost money, a whopping $328 million. Military consumers reported losing more than $25 million to imposter scams – their largest aggregate loss to any reported fraud, by far. The military consumers’ median loss to imposter scams was $699. For other consumers, it was $500.
We’re not sure why, but military folks reported median losses much greater than civilians did for other frauds, too. For instance, for the general population, the reported median loss from all types of fraud was $429, but for military consumers it was $619, more than 44% higher. On the other hand, military consumers also told us they lost money to just 15% of the frauds they reported (versus 21% in the general population). That tells us that military consumers are doing a great job reporting fraud to the FTC, even if they didn’t lose money to it.
Con artists target servicemembers because of their regular paycheck from Uncle Sam. Some scammers pretend to have a military affiliation to more easily gain trust and rip off servicemembers, veterans, and their families. One thing we know for sure: more reports yield more data, tell a more detailed story, and help law enforcement go after unlawful practices.
We’ve brought a number of cases against companies using deceptive practices and against scammers who target military consumers. Cases like the one against a debt collector who made false threats and collected phony attorneys’ fees, where we returned money to thousands of wronged consumers. Or against operators of a telemarketing scheme who paid $7.5 million to settle the FTC’s charges that they bilked millions of dollars from consumers, many of whom were military veterans on a fixed income.
We want to hear about your experiences. If you spot a scam, tell the FTC – and you also will be telling more than 2,300 law enforcers who are members of the Consumer Sentinel Network.