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Written by: Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Martie Gillen, Ph.D., MBA, AFC®, CFLE and Nichole Huff, Ph.D, CFLE

Military families are frequent targets for scams. Reasons include service members’ steady incomes, military camaraderie that attracts affinity fraud, frequent deployments where monitoring finances can be complex, and the fact that many service members are young and living on their own and earning a paycheck for the first time. Many service members also spend significant time online (e.g., social media), where many scams originate.

Personal Financial Managers can educate clients about scams and help clients who become fraud victims. Below are some key things to know about spotting and avoiding fraud.

Fraud Reports by Military Consumers

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 93,000 reports of fraud by Military Consumers, with nearly 40,000 of these cases related to identity theft. Specifically, the top five reported fraud categories by Military Consumers in 2022 were: (1) imposter scams; (2) online shopping and negative reviews; (3) investment-related; (4) prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; and (5) business and job opportunities. Total financial losses reported due to fraud among Military Consumers in 2022 topped $414,000,000.

Regarding reported types of identity theft, the top five types were: (1) credit card fraud; (2) bank fraud; (3) other identity theft (e.g., online shopping; email or social media; insurance); (4) loan or lease fraud; and (5) phone or utility fraud. The Department of Defense Office of Financial Readiness offers tips on talking to Service Members about identity protection.

According to the FTC, the top scams reported by young adults include impersonator scams, job scams, and investment scams. In fact, FTC data revealed that “people in their 20s reported losing money to fraud at a higher rate than people in their 70s.”

Imposter Scams

One type of imposter or impersonator scam is are romance scams. These scams affect all genders and sexual orientations. Fraudsters often find victims via social media and dating apps and suggest moving to a messaging app, followed by a period of “grooming” (e.g., talking about a future together even though they never meet in person).

Requests for money typically start small and increase over time and investments are pitched as urgent and exclusive opportunities. If service members suspect fraud, they should end all contact and payments, and then report the scam at

Scam Red Flags

Common signs of fraudulent websites include no physical address or a fake address; no toll-free (1-800) phone number for customer service; broken links; and poor spelling or grammar. Other red flags for fraud are promises of high returns with little or no risk; pressure to buy something quickly; cold calls or texts; and asking victims to make payments with untraceable, irreversible methods such as gift cards, cryptocurrency, and wire transfers.

Persuasion Tactics

Fraudsters often use one or more of the following prompts:

  • Source Credibility– Claiming to work for a reputable firm or have a special area of expertise
  • Scarcity– Claiming that something is in limited supply
  • Reciprocity– Offering to do a small favor for a victim in exchange for a big favor
  • Social Consensus– Leading victims to believe that others have already signed up for an opportunity

For additional information about scams, review this OneOp webinar.


Federal Trade Commission (2023, February). Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2022. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2022 (

Kreidler, J. (2023, May 17). Scam proof the young people in your life. Federal Trade Commission. Scam proof the young people in your life | Consumer Advice (

Photo credit: Master. Sgt. Ryan Matson/dvidshub