SALT LAKE CITY — Consumer advocates are warning Utah military families to be on the lookout for scams specifically aimed at defrauding veterans.
This week, the state Division of Consumer Protection, along with the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs identified a new scam targeting military veterans and their family members.
The new scam came to light after a veteran's spouse alerted the consumer protection office about a suspicious phone call that came to their home.
"The first call we got was about a month ago. The caller ID said U.S. government and I answer," said Weber County resident Sandy Conway. "They said that due to the pandemic, (my husband's) compensatory benefits are going to increase by $400 per month. All you need to do, of course, is provide his full name, date of birth, Social Security, branch of service, etc., etc."
While she patiently engaged with the fraudster, she took notes getting all the information she could in order to report the scam to state regulators and law enforcement.
"I file my report with the appropriate entity, and then I call (the scammer) back and tell them, 'Thank you very much for all the information you gave me. Don't ever call this number again. I've already turned you in to the authorities.'"
Conway said the calls started coming in over the past few weeks on almost a daily basis. One of the more recent scam attempts came in on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7.
"They are really going after veterans and disabled veterans. And they are using caller IDs that look like legitimate government agencies," she said. "This call came into my cellphone, they addressed me by name, which means they know I'm his fiduciary and the person to speak to."
Conway warns potential victims to be very careful who they take calls from and avoid answering any calls from numbers you are not familiar with.
"Look out for any phone call (you) received from anyone posing as the U.S. government that is offering early sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations or increased compensatory benefits," she said. "If it's not your doctor's office from the VA, don't answer any questions. Hang up and then report it to the (consumer protection office)."
They are really going after veterans and disabled veterans. And they are using caller IDs that look like legitimate government agencies. This call came into my cellphone, they addressed me by name, which means they know I'm his fiduciary and the person to speak to.
–Sandy Conway, Weber County resident
While fraud can take various forms, the essential elements of most schemes are the same.
"Scammers have no low they won't stoop to in their schemes," said Daniel O'Bannon, director of the Division of Consumer Protection. "Veterans and their families need to be wary to protect themselves."
Beware of scammers posing as government employees who call their target by their name or ask for a donation, he said. Also, veterans' benefits are not contingent on providing information over the phone.
"It's important that we remember that there are bad actors trying to scam our great veterans here in Utah. And remind our veteran community to be aware of those scammers during this time of year," said Cory Pearson, veteran services deputy director at the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.
For information about military benefits, call 801-326-2372. To report fraud, visit the state Division of Consumer Protection website at consumer protection.utah.gov.
Meanwhile, Conway lamented how criminals can be so brazen as to set their sights on taking advantage of individuals who have served in the military.
"My heart goes out to anyone that has been a victim. To go after such a vulnerable population. These are disabled American veterans, these are heroes," she said. "These are people that fought, served and sacrificed for their country and they are so vulnerable right now. These ID thieves are playing on that. They are heathens!"