By L.A. ShivelyJanuary 6, 2011
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- An old e-mail lurking in the electronic cloud is making rounds again in a renewed attempt at phishing for veterans' personal information.
"While the e-mail is not what it purports to be, the message lends itself to a much bigger issue of the exploitation of veterans using survivor benefits as a hook by financial services companies to get their business," said Matthew Lofiego, Military Officers Association of America's (MOAA) deputy director of the Member Service Center.
"There are so many organizations out there targeting veterans, offering them money and becoming the beneficiary of their benefits," Lofiego said.
"Servicemembers and veterans need to be careful in this day in age," said Jerry Manar, deputy director for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a non-profit service organization of combat veterans in the U.S.
"Many scams seem to offer something for very little money or for free. Once you're involved with them they do a bait and switch and begin charging money for services," Manar said, stressing residents of retirement and nursing homes are often targeted and particularly vulnerable.
"It is a growing problem, and one that MOAA is paying close attention to, especially the tactics being used," Lofiego said.
Recently forwarded throughout the Army community and titled "Warning To Veterans," the current version of the e-mail advises against using the services of an organization called Veterans Affairs Services and appears to come from Kevin Secor, Veterans Service Organizations liaison, Office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
MOAA contacted the VA and VSO Liaison Kevin Secor to confirm. Lofiego said Secor stated that he never sent the message.
An earlier version of this e-mail, purportedly from Michael G. Daugherty, staff attorney with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of General Counsel, contains a Facebook link that may be an attempt to upload a virus according to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Military Line officials.
BBB confirmed with the VA that although Michael Daugherty is currently a staff attorney for DVA, he did not send the e-mail and that no e-mails of this nature are being sent by the VA.
The BBB advises anyone receiving this e-mail not click on the link. Also, the VA advises veterans seeking assistance use a VA-recognized service organization in order to submit a claim for benefits.
Referencing the VAS internet location, http://www.vaservices.org, the organization has some working links to VA benefit and military-related information and a purloined resemblance to the VA name and seal. Forms on the Web site solicit visitors to schedule a briefing by requesting input of detailed personal information.
VAS representatives did gain access to military personnel several years ago according to Dale Hartley, base civilian financial counselor at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fl., at the time. Hartley is currently on the faculty of Laramie County Community College and adjunct faculty with Ashford University in Cheyenne, Wyo.
He said a servicemember asked him to help her understand the retirement plan she bought from salespeople she understood to be VA representatives.
"This is a whole life insurance policy," Hartley explained to her, adding that she did not need insurance as she already had a $200,000 Servicemen's Group Life Insurance policy. He further explained that the VA does not sell life insurance or investments.
Hartley said business cards presented to the servicemember represented the Military Financial Planning Association and Veterans Affairs Services.
"So I now had evidence that these salesmen gained access to a restricted military base on false pretenses; lured government personnel during duty hours to a "retirement planning" briefing, which was in reality nothing more than a sales prospecting event; sold life insurance products deceptively to customers who thought they were buying investments for retirement or college; and presented themselves as government representatives selling products sanctioned by the VA," Hartley said.
He reported the scam to MacDill AFB's Office of Special Investigations and to Florida's Insurance Commissioner.
"The salesmen were immediately barred from MacDill AFB. The various investigators then took over and I never learned what action was taken," Hartley said. "The client never returned and I don't know what she did about her 'retirement plan.' I believe she had a good case to surrender it to American Pioneer and demand all her money back."
Manar explained that the VA lists all accredited organizations and representatives and the information can be researched at http://www4.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp.