Two scams aimed at Veterans targeted by U.S. Postal Inspection Service

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and its partner AARP, are warning former and current military members about scams aimed at Veterans. Recently, as part of Operation Protect Veterans, we introduced some of the many ways swindlers and con artists target former and active military members. In this article, Postal Inspector, Marc Ewing, highlights two schemes in particular: the fake charitable giving request and the Veterans benefit or pension buyout.

Fraudulent charities

According to AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, bogus charities that claim to benefit Veterans are a proven strategy for scammers, especially when targeting patriotic older donors. Scammers often use names that sound like authentic organizations when soliciting contributions. The criminals behind these fake charities know Veterans share a bond of honor, and they use that bond to manipulate and defraud. One such scammer, convicted and currently under appeal, operated two fake charities, pocketing the donations his victims thought were going to Veterans. Then he stooped even lower and used the personal information on the checks to steal donors’ identities and take even more cash.

Whether you’re a Veteran (active or retired), a family member of a Veteran, or a civilian who simply appreciates what Veterans have done serving their country, keep your guard up when encountering solicitations for charities with the word “Veterans” in the organization’s name or mission statement. Before donating, verify the charity’s name and their reputation. Use sites such as the Wise Giving Alliance, operated by the Better Business Bureau, or Charity Navigator. You can also contact the state agency that regulates charities where you live.

Donors also should have a clear understanding of how their donations will be used. Just because the word “Veterans” is in the name of a charity doesn’t mean Veterans or their families will get any benefit. For example, telemarketers’ consulting fees are often counted as “program” services. Look closely at the amounts a charity actually spends on programs that directly benefit its intended recipients. Reputable and effective nonprofits spend at least 75 percent of their expenses on program services and no more than 25 percent on fundraising and overhead, according to charity watchdogs. You can research charities at sites like CharityWatch, a nonprofit that analyzes the financial statements of charitable organizations and uses a scale from A+ to F to rate nonprofits based on their financial transparency and spending habits.

Veterans benefit or pension buyout

Many Veterans depend on a pension to cover day-to-day as well as occasional unexpected expenses, such as health emergencies or home repairs. In a pension advance, a company pays the pension holder a lump sum (usually far less than the pension is worth) in exchange for a portion or all of the future pension payments. This can be an attractive arrangement to some retirees, especially those facing temporary hardships or financial challenges that need to be resolved quickly. But though pension advances may seem like a “quick fix” to financial problems, they can eat into or even deplete your retirement income when you start paying back the advance plus interest and fees.

More often than not, a pension advance is a raw deal. Pension advance companies deliberately target government retirees with pensions and typically charge high interest rates and fees for an advance. One representative from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said: “We’ve heard from Veterans paying interest rates as high as 106 percent.” Former service members should especially be on guard, because many of those shady companies use patriotic-sounding names or logos and even claim they are endorsed by the VA as a way of enticing potential customers.

If you or a loved one is considering a pension advance, consider your alternatives. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Service Members, a financial coach or credit counselor can help you weigh your options. To get started, contact the Financial Counseling Association of America (800-450-1794) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling(800-388-2227).

Here are three things service members can do to protect their retirement pension:

  1. Avoid loans with high fees and interest. Pension advance companies may not always advertise their fees and interest rates, but you will certainly feel them in your bottom line. Before you sign anything, learn what you are getting and how much you are giving up.
  2. Don’t sign over control of your benefits. Companies sometimes arrange for monthly payments to be automatically deposited in a newly created bank account so the company can withdraw payments, fees, and interest charges from the account. This leaves you with little control.
  3. Don’t buy life insurance that you don’t want or need. Pension advance companies sometimes require consumers to sign up for life insurance with the company as the consumer’s beneficiary. If you sign up for life insurance with the pension advance company as your beneficiary, you could end up footing the bill, whether you know it or not.

You can also get a printer-friendly version of this information to share with friends who are considering pension advances.

Whether you’re thinking about giving to a Veterans charity or have been offered a cash advance of your pension, use extreme caution. Both of these decisions will likely be charged with emotion, but be smart and do some research before giving up anything. Scammers are determined to get their hands on your money or any personal information that might give them access to your money.

If you or someone you know has encountered any military-affiliated scam, you can join the fight by sharing your experiences, good and bad, with our partners at the Fraud Watch Network (877-908-3360).


About the author: Inspector Marc Ewing is a program manager for the Postal Inspection Service’s Mail Fraud program. Ewing previously worked as a fraud investigator in Ft. Worth, Texas, and later Memphis, Tennessee, specializing in investment frauds, pyramid schemes, sweepstakes, and phony business opportunities. He is a former member of the U.S. Air Force and was twice deployed to Saudi Arabia.

About the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the oldest federal law enforcement organization, tracing its roots to Benjamin Franklin. As one of the largest employers of Veterans, USPS and the Inspection Service take personally any attack on our Veterans. Learn more about the Inspection Service on FacebookTwitter and at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

 

MDVA is currently hiring for a Communications/Public Relations Student Worker

MDVA is currently hiring for a Communications/Public Relations Student Worker. This short-term student worker position helps the MDVA Communications team to write articles and produce content for external communications including the blog and social media, and special events for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs communications office, with responsibilities in the following areas:

– Assist with the development and updating of media lists and other databases
– Write department newsletters
– Assist with social networking, social media and blogging
– Assist with marketing and branding campaigns

Hours are flexible to meet the needs of student’s schedule within core business hours of 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Click here to read more about the position, and to apply through the State of Minnesota Careers site: https://bit.ly/2GukLlA

Former POW recalls more than 1,300 days in captivity, beginning just days after Pearl Harbor

Former POW recalls more than 1,300 days in captivity, beginning just days after Pearl Harbor

Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. For retired Commander Jack Schwartz, that seems to be the case.

The 22-year Navy veteran spent 1,367 days in captivity as a prisoner of war during World War II. And he’s about to turn 103 years old April 28.

For Schwartz, it all started just three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 10, 1941, he was a Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade stationed in Guam as a Civil Engineer responsible for the water supply, roads, the breakwater and some construction.

“We only had 100 Marines on the island – about 400 of us total, to include those who worked at the Naval hospital,” Schwartz said. “And there were about 4-5,000 Japanese Soldiers. They sank one of our ships, a mine sweeper, and nine sailors were killed.”

IMAGE: A young Jack Schwartz in uniform.“We didn’t put up much of a fight.”

Schwartz said he was held by the Japanese there in Guam for about 30 days.

“There was plenty of food on Guam, but they deliberately starved us to make us weak,” he said.

After 30 days, they were transported by ship – all 400 U.S. POWs to include Schwartz – to Shikoku Island in Japan. They stayed there for about eight months, in some old barracks left over from the Japanese war with Russia, before being moved again.

The next place Schwartz was sent to was Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama. There were already POW camps and prisoners there when Schwartz arrived to include U.S. service members captured in the Philippines and from U.S. ships.

More than 300 prisoners were there, but just a few were officers, he said.

“I was the senior U.S. officer there so they put me in charge of the camp,” Schwartz said. “As a prisoner, I had absolutely no authority to do anything, but if anything went wrong it was my fault.”

“Every month or two I got a beating by the Japanese guards – nothing too serious – just to show me they’re in charge.”

After two years, Schwartz said he was sent back to Shikoku Island to the same POW camp he was at previously.

“This was a camp for officers – not just U.S., but English and Dutch. This was where the Japanese would invite the Red Cross to show how nice the conditions were,” Schwartz said.

IMAGE: Jack Schwartz holds his shadow box with his medalsSchwartz would be separated, segregated and moved several times before the Japanese finally surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 14, 1945.

“The day the war with Japan was over, a Japanese officer lined us up outside and told us hostilities have ceased,” Schwartz said. “And he and the other Japanese officers and guards just walked away.”

They made a big sign in white paint on the roof that read POW. After a couple of weeks, a U.S. B-29 bomber spotted us, and a few hours later they started dropping parachutes full of food.

“Naturally we all started stuffing ourselves and got sick.”

Upon release – after being held POW for 3.75 years – Schwartz made the decision he would not end his career with the Navy and instead, he continued to serve for another 18 years.

The CalTech graduate – who was born in San Francisco but moved to Hollywood with his parents at an early age – would eventually retire from the Navy with honors and distinction and move to Hanford, California in 1962.

He then worked for 18 years as Hanford’s Public Works director and city engineer before retiring a second time.

Schwartz said he now receives his medical care from the VA Central California Health Care System.

“I still remember my first doctor there at the VA, Dr. Ron Naggar. And Dr. Ivance Pugoy is one of my current doctors,” Schwartz said. “You get a feeling they actually care. They make you feel like you are not just a name. You are a person. They do an excellent job for all the POWs,” he said.

About the Author: Cameron Porter is the public affairs officer at VA Central California Health Care System. He is a retired Army command sergeant major and career public affairs professional with 24 years experience