Patronis: 'Florida must protect our heroes from fraud'

State CFO warns of top scams targeting active-duty military, veterans

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Scammers are bad enough, but there are con artists who are specifically targeting our active-duty military and veterans. With July being Military Consumer Protection Month, Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis wants to make sure two things happen: we protect those who have risked their lives to protect us, and we make sure the military community takes advantage of benefits earned.

Scams targeting military community

Currently, there are more than 1.5 million veterans living in Florida -- the third largest veteran population in the nation.

"Research shows veterans are twice as likely to be targeted for scams, and we must help raise awareness within Florida’s veterans and the entire military community," said Patronis.

In Florida, Corrine Brown now sits in a federal prison after she was convicted of using the fake charity One Door For Education as a front for a lavish lifestyle.

The Federal Trade Commission says there are more scams out there. One the FTC has targeted is called Help the Vets, run by a man named Neil Paulson, who also goes by Paul Paulson.

He ran for Orlando mayor back in 2015 and had advertisements showing-off his military credentials and experience with veterans.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi said Paulson abused those veterans' trust.

"So many of our veterans are getting scammed, and what we've heard is that they're too proud to report it," Bondi said.

An investigation found Paulson used fliers and letters to raise about $20 million nationwide in three years, but spent 95-percent of the money on his, and his professional fundraisers' own interests, not veterans.

Cases like these are motivating the FTC to rally a coalition of law enforcement entities, taking on similar groups present in all 50 states and in U.S. territories that have credible names like Veterans of America, which investigators said made illegal robocalls asking for cars, boats and real estate

But law enforcement said those donations were just resold for the founder's profit.

Some of the top scams targeting those who have served include:

Benefits Buyout: Scammers offer a quick lump-sum buyout for future disability or pension payments. Companies that offer this buyout often only end up paying a fraction of the veteran’s benefits over time. Patronis said veterans should think twice about entering into such an agreement.

Secret Benefits:  A caller says the veteran is missing out on money, but must pay a fee to claim it. Veterans benefits are available to claim at any time free of charge. Veterans should contact the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs for questions regarding unclaimed benefits.

Phishing: A caller claims to work for the federal government and asks veterans for Social Security Numbers and personal financial information to update military records. Active-duty military and veterans should never give out personal information over the phone. Also, never click on hyperlinks contained in emails from unknown individuals or businesses.

Phony Employment: Scammers are aware that past military experience appeals to many employers, and they are using that to their advantage. Con artists will collect personal information by advertising fake positions to steal someone's identity, or they may even charge a fee for locating a job that does not exist. If a company or organization is mentioned in an ad or interview, contact that company directly to find out if they are hiring.

Mortgage Relief: Military homeowners looking for assistance with paying their mortgage should be cautious of this type of scam. Some mortgage relief companies will try to convince service members and veterans to pay a fee in exchange for a loan modification or to stop foreclosure. It’s against the law for mortgage relief companies to charge any money until you have accepted a written offer from your lender. If you’re struggling to make your mortgage payment, there are legitimate programs that can help. Click here for help.
 
Pension Transfers: Veterans 65 and over are targeted by financial advisers persuading them to transfer pensions into a special trust and charge excessive fees. The advisers claim to help veterans qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits, but may cause them to lose eligibility for Medicaid or access to their pension.

Credit Repair: Scam artists claim to improve your credit score, remove bankruptcies, judgments and liens, and repair your credit. Under federal law, credit repair companies cannot require you to pay any fees until they have completed the service they promised. Financial counselors on your military installation can help review your credit report free of charge and dispute any errors. Patronis says active-duty military should also consider freezing their credit before deploying. As of July 1, credit reporting agencies can no longer charge a fee to freeze your credit.

The FTC offered some reminders before donating:

  • Ask for the full name of the group
  • Check that name with the Better Business Bureau and other charity rating websites
  • Don't donate using wire transfers or prepaid cards.

If you believe you are victim of a scam, the Florida Attorney General's Office created the Military and Veterans Assistance Program to help. You can call 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or file a complaint online here.

READ: More scams targeting military community 

Take advantage of benefits and services you earned

Did you know that about $500 million in veterans' benefits go unclaimed in Florida?

"These are benefits that could make a major financial difference for our military community and their families," said Patronis.

Florida benefits and services include:

Patronis added that one way to ensure benefits are received by those who have earned them is to make sure all your personal information is updated with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs

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