Scammers are on the prowl and are taking advantage of Americans’ increased anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic. Veterans and military families are twice as likely as civilians to be targeted by con artists.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there have been more than 20,300 COVID-19 complaints carrying an estimated $15.6 million in losses since the start of 2020. U.S. service members and veterans should take particular notice because these fraudsters have tailored their fake pitches to mix the pandemic with top concerns of those who’ve worn a military uniform.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and Operation Protect Veterans initiative have received reports of COVID-19 treatment scams, fake charity pitches claiming to help veteran and military families, as well as a number of phishing scams trying to steal one’s personal identity, financial information and even Veterans Affairs benefits.

The government’s health program for uniformed service members and retirees has not been immune to current scams. TRICARE officials say fraudsters are offering “free” coronavirus test kits in exchange for a beneficiary’s personal information, Social Security numbers, bank or credit card information. Never give away such details over the phone, email, text or even on your doorstep.

A slight deviation from this health scam is falsely claiming to provide a COVID-19 vaccine or remedy. As the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has made clear: There are no such cures currently on the market.

With business slowed and money tight, some scammers falsely claim to be raising money for charities to help those most in need — including veterans and military families. Don’t fall for it. Before donating, AARP’s fraud prevention specialists warn to always research charities using sites like charitynavigator.org or give.org to ensure they’re legitimate. And don’t willingly share your credit card or banking information over the phone, email or text, if you’ve verified the charity. Go straight to the confirmed charity’s website to donate through a secure process.

Phishing scams by email are popping up daily that appear to be from legitimate organizations and government agencies such as Social Security, VA, or the IRS. The federal government’s $1,200 stimulus payments are driving much of this fraud. If you click their links, these phishing scams are one step closer to stealing your personal and financial information.

These sneaky pitches now have spread to smart phones. The Federal Communications Commission reports that many Americans are receiving texts from the so-called “FCC Financial Care Center” offering $30,000 in relief to those affected by COVID-19. But as FCC points out, there is no such program, and these texts are simply trying to trick you into providing personal information.

Since its start on Veterans Day 2017, AARP’s Operation Protect Veterans initiative has warned tens of thousands about scams, frauds and schemes targeting veterans and military families. During May’s Military Appreciation Month and for weeks thereafter, make it your mission to help defend others from scoundrels looking to steal from our nation’s heroes by reporting suspicious pitches, emails or even texts to local law enforcement and AARP’s free Fraud Watch Helpline (1-877-908-3360).

This timely information can be collected and shared nationwide. By working together and living the slogan “spot a scam, stop a scam,” veterans and military families can once again serve and protect their loved ones and American public.

For more information, visit AARP’s free Fraud Watch Networkaarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

Robert Bristow is an AARP Oklahoma volunteer and former state volunteer president. Bristow served in the U.S. Army, 3rd Armored Division and the U.S. Army Reserves Advanced Infantry Training Division. Bristow lives in Tulsa.

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