Scammers take advantage of holidays to prey on veterans' emotions, desire to help other vets

DENVER -- Giving Tuesday is a time when many Coloradans take stock of what they have and make donations to help others.

It's also a time of year when scammers ramp up efforts to take advantage of those in a giving mood.

Veterans are especially at risk.

AARP Survey

A recent survey by AARP Washington State shows that veterans are twice as likely as the general population to lose money to scammers.

"Obviously, veterans are very patriotic and want to give back to their country," said Mark Fetterhoff, a senior program specialist with the AARP. 

He said scammers take advantage of that, telling veterans they're raising money to help other vets, or to help police officers, or firefighters.

"I would say that if you receive an unsolicited phone call from one of them, saying they want to help veterans, do your research," Fetterhoff said. "Don't just give (money) right away.  Look up their website and make sure your hard-earned money is going where you think it is."

Phone calls not only concern

It's not just phone calls that veterans have to worry about.

Earlier this year, Chris Castle, a Marine veteran who served in Desert Storm, told Denver7 that he got knock on his front door from a group of young people claiming to represent the "Helping Heroes Project."

They made an appeal to Castle's patriotism.

"They asked for a donation to help provide care packages to active-duty soldiers," he said.

The Thornton resident gave them money, then became suspicious.

When Denver7 called the number listed on the Helping Heroes Project website, the person answering said it was a wrong number. 

The link to the website is no longer active.

The AARP survey shows requests to help fellow vets tops the list of scams specifically targeting veterans.

Taking advantage of little known government programs that can result in lots of cash is the number two scam.

Fetterhoff said if you don't have access to the internet and can't vet the "charity" yourself, contact the AARP Foundation's Elderwatch Line (1-800-222-4444) and ask for help determining whether a charity is legit.

He said 80 percent of Coloradans give to charity, but only 46 percent regularly vet the charities they give to.

"That's a huge statistic to know about," he said. "Check the charity, check that charity."

If you have access to the internet, you can check the charity on www.give.org.

Another trick scammers use is to pretend to be from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs requesting personal or financial information that should already be on file.  

The VA, like the IRS and Medicare uses the U.S. mail for all officials correspondence.

If you receive such a call, hang up and check with the VA directly.

Operation Protect Veterans

In January, the AARP and U.S. Postal Inspection Service will launch a campaign to try to keep veterans from falling prey to scammers.

They will place brochures in Post Offices around the country, warning veterans about scams and offering advice.

The AARP also offers advice via it's Fraud Watch Network, which you can access here.

To learn more about the survey and scams against veterans, click here.

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