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By Bruce Sussman
Mon | Nov 11, 2019 | 10:29 AM PST

They trained, they served, they protected us.

Now, they're being targeted by cybercriminals who prey on their loyalty to their country, and it just makes you sick.

An AARP study found that U.S. military veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to lose money to fraud. In that research, nearly 8 out of 10 veterans surveyed reported being targeted by scams related to their service.

In hopes that we can raise awareness of this issue, here are some of the top cyber scams facing veterans and members of the armed forces right now.

The hackers committing these crimes actually do care about the service of our veterans and active military—because it gives them ways to steal their money and scam military families.

1. Phishing scams against military and veterans

  • VA phishing scam: Scammers posing as Veterans Affairs employees email or call veterans to "phish" for Social Security numbers and personal financial information, which they then use to access bank accounts and/or open fake credit card accounts.
  • Bogus employment phish: Scammers post fake job descriptions targeting veterans they "want to hire." The purpose is to get veterans to enter personal information into their bogus job application form which the cybercriminals can use in many ways. 

See Army Times for more.

2. Bogus benefits scam against veterans and military

The scammers will send an email or leave voice messages with this type of language:

"Your VA profile was flagged for two potential benefits to the changes in the VA program. These are time-sensitive entitlements. Please respond back at your earliest convenience."

The voicemail or email  includes a fraudulent call-back number (or link to click) for something official sounding like "Veterans Assistance." Potential victims who call the number are offered "benefits," such as loan modifications to their mortgages, then asked for personal information, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and bank account numbers.

This type of scam often leads to identity theft. It is sometimes linked to the sale of this information on the Dark Web where hackers buy, sell, and trade breached or stolen data about us.

See the FCC's update on veterans benefits scams  for more.

3. Fake classified ads target veterans and military members

Veterans are often thanked for their service. We've certainly recognized our SecureWorld speakers who have served and are still helping others.

And many organizations offer veterans discounts and other breaks as a way of saying thanks.

Cybercriminals know this and are targeting them as they look for a new place to live:

"Fake classified ads for rental properties offer discounts for veterans and active-duty military. Targets are instructed to wire money for a security deposit for what turns out to be a nonexistent property."

See the AARP's notice on scams targeting veterans for more

4. Romance scams with stolen veteran and troop identities

A recent investigation by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) also found some really disturbing cybercrimes that tread on the good name of those who serve, including those who died in combat. 

"Foreign entities, primarily individuals from West Africa, have been stealing the identities of servicemembers and veterans, including those who have been killed in action, to target Americans with romance scams.

The primary targets of these insidious and cruel scams are older, lonely Americans who are relatively new to social media and the internet. The ploy of posing as a servicemember or veteran for financial gain has serious consequences for both those whose identities are stolen and those who are duped into giving money."

5. Veterans organizations impersonated to target veterans

If you're a veteran or a member of the military, who do you trust?

Probably your peers who have served or are serving. And the organizations that assist you. They know about the hard work, the sacrifice, and what it is like to serve.

Some cybercriminals have figured out a way to manipulate this trust in ways that just make you mad.

For example, a scam where the veteran becomes both the target and (unknowingly) the perpetrator of a crime. 

The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) study reports:

"...individual Snapchat and Instagram accounts have been persistently using VVA's name and logo to lure its supporters into participating in fraudulent fundraising. These foreign admins ask veterans to supply their personal banking information, claiming that if they solicit money by pretending to be doing fundraising for the VVA, they will then receive a share of the funds themselves, which will be deposited into their personal accounts."

Instead, the money all goes to cybercriminals. And think about how this hurts the VVA, as well as other legitimate veterans organizations.

Also, the VVA study uncovered a concerted effort to target veterans and active military with influence operations through social media. Here's a snippet of what that looks like:

These foreign admins have created individual social-media accounts that purport to belong to American veterans working at reputable veterans organizations. They use these fake-veteran accounts to send friend requests to the relatively small community of veteran advocates and connect with its prominent members who work to shape federal policy.

These fake-veteran accounts infiltrate both public Facebook pages and private Facebook groups, where they can spread propaganda and false news, while shaping and moderating/censoring the conversations of the unsuspecting community of American veterans who follow or join these groups and pages.

These admins also recruit Americans who have an interest in veterans and other foreign nationals to help moderate the groups and pages and make them appear more legitimate.

One such page, "Veterans of Vietnam," with nearly 160,000 followers, has had admins in Russia, Ukraine, and Italy. This page has been bolstered by at least three dedicated Russian-generated Vietnam-veteran-focused websites that were created to build the Facebook page's credibility by sharing information about the Vietnam War and veterans' benefits. These admins also control a closed Facebook group, "American Veterans of Vietnam," which solicits information from Vietnam veterans regarding their military experience.

Fake accounts are also being utilized by hostile Chinese intelligence services to connect with high-ranking and influential members of the intelligence and defense communities centered in and around Washington, DC. Chinese officials are seeking to exploit financially vulnerable members of these communities and leverage debts to recruit spies.

These crimes hurt our veterans, our families, and potentially our democracy.

For more, see An Investigation Into Foreign Entities Who Are Targeting Servicemembers and Veterans online.

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