- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Even a member of Congress can find herself targeted by scammers.

On Wednesday, Sen. Martha McSally, Arizona Republican and former Air Force pilot, held up the latest in a series of mailings showing up in her mailbox nearly every week.

The letter was filled with confusing jargon about VA loans and requests for personal information, Ms. McSally told a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing, and it was clear the sender was using her status as a military veteran to try to bilk her out of cash.

“They are preying on our veterans,” Ms. McSally said. “It’s misleading and it’s confusing. They’re robbing them of their hard-earned resources.”

Lawmakers heard stories of how veterans — especially older ones — are being targeted by scammers looking to make a quick buck off those who have worn the nation’s uniform.

“Veterans are disproportionately affected by these schemes. But there is also troubling evidence that some fraudsters are deliberately structuring their scams to target veterans,” said committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

In one recent case, a con artist from Michigan was convicted of stealing nearly $200,000 from 36 victims who thought they were donating to charities benefiting veterans.

“Not only did veterans never see a dime of this money, the fraudster added insult to injury by stealing the victims’ personally identifiable information to commit identity theft,” Ms. Collins said.

LaVerne Foreman, 82, served in the Air Force, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. He told the senators he doesn’t like to acknowledge he also was targeted by fraudsters.

“It isn’t easy to talk about being scammed, but what I am doing today is an extension of my service,” Mr. Foreman said. “I feel a responsibility to warn others who served to be vigilant against scam artists.”

In 2014, he received a call from an organization calling itself the Disabled and Paralyzed Veterans Fund. He sent the group $20, but the organization kept coming back asking for more money.

“I grew even more suspicious but believed it might have just been fundraising tactics of a legitimate organization,” he said.

But the scammers had obtained his account number and bank routing information and used it for yet another donation.

“I was shocked. I had not spoken to that organization or sent a recent donation. I realized that I was scammed,” Mr. Foreman told the senators.

Ms. Collins said lawmakers are weighing legislation to enhance the punishment for fraud targeting military veterans. It would be modeled on bills introduced against robocall operators.

The current penalties “are not sufficient to deter these people,” Ms. Collins said.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, the ranking Democrat on the committee, cited a 2017 AARP survey that found 16% of U.S. veterans have lost money to con artists, while 78% have been targeted by scams specifically crafted to exploit their service history.

“If we are to be worthy of the valor of our veterans, this number should be zero,” he said. “We must not stop with just this hearing.”

Mr. Casey said the committee will be sending a letter to the Veterans Administration asking officials to do more to fight fraud targeting veterans and their families and better coordinate their efforts.

“The VA lacks a central clearinghouse for soliciting and collecting information on potential financial exploitation of veterans receiving pension benefits,” Mr. Casey said. “To say this is troubling is an understatement.”

Veteran scams should be a higher priority at the VA,” Ms. Collins said. “It would not take a lot of additional resources,” she said.

The VA could act as a clearinghouse and forward the reports from veterans to other agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice, she added.

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