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By Laura Royer

As Personal Finance Managers (PFMs) working with Service members and military families, it is important that you help them stay aware of the many ways scammers prey and provide resources to help protect them and their families.

Deployments and relocations often leave military families vulnerable because information on bank accounts, credit cards, and mailing addresses may not be updated quickly, and perhaps not as precisely as possible. Also, deployments to remote locations may weaken the ability of the Service member to recognize and react to any fraudulent activity and communicate any concerns to his or her family members.

Credit Card or Bank Account Number Theft

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), active-duty Service members are 76% more likely to report fraudulent activity on their accounts compared to the average adult population. Furthermore, 14% of these reported fraudulent activities were due to their own families having access to personal information left behind when deployed.

Most often, credit card fraud occurred when electronic misuse has taken place by providing the numbers or bank account information. Be sure to coach your clients on the safe uses of shopping online and how to recognize spoof websites. The following are the most common ways a credit card or bank account number is compromised:

  • Spyware or Malware – scammers embed programs in downloads that will record every keystroke, including credit card numbers, as someone types it into an online order form. Advise your client to not download anything on a computer unless he or she has validated its source or otherwise trusts where it is coming from.
  • Card skimmers – devices that will allow scammers to capture the digital information embedded in credit cards. The most common way is through a card reader at gas stations, ATMs, or other places where credit cards are swiped.
  • Public WiFi – information processed on public Wi-Fi is not secure. Be sure to advise your client to not open sensitive documents or financial websites on public networks, as hackers can access your account numbers and passwords more easily on public networks.

Even if Service members take caution when using their devices to protect their personal information, scammers have many other ways to capture sensitive data.

Phishing Scams

“Phishing” is the fraudulent practice in which the scammer poses as a trustworthy entity through electronic or telephone communication with the intent to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit cards. Oftentimes, those who commit fraud are enticed by the possibility of gaining access to secure documents or information which makes Service members more vulnerable to being phished because they may have special security clearances.

These scams can be very authentic-looking and may seem credible. An example of a phishing scam might be an email designed to get victims to purchase gift cards. The attacker mimics the email of a known sender.  The messages start out as basic greetings then progress into requests for money or data. Since the content is highly personalized, it is often easy to get hooked.

It’s important to educate your clients on how to recognize the signs of a phishing scam as they are the most common form of identity theft. For more information, refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines (FTC) on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams to see what to do when they may be at risk.

Tips for Fraud Protection

There are many precautions that your clients can take to protect themselves from any fraudulent activity. Encourage your client to:

  • Shred documents with personal information on it;
  • Place holds on accounts when deployed;
  • Research companies before any information is provided;
  • Avoid using non-traceable transfers;
  • Avoid giving out any information over the phone or in emails;
  • Never open links that are not familiar or look skeptical;
  • Use security measures online including strong passwords, and antivirus programs, and keep systems updated; and
  • Use government resources for assistance rather than private organizations.

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