Casey: We Must Do More to Protect Veterans From Falling Victim to Scam Artists
Ahead of Veterans Day, Casey Holds Hearing on Scams That Target Veterans
Northumberland County Veteran Testifies About How Con Artists Used a Fake Veterans Charity Scam to Solicit Money
Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a hearing entitled, “Veterans Scams: Protecting Those Who Protect Us.” During the hearing, Sen. Casey highlighted his bipartisan letter that calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take a more active role in tracking these scams and educating Veterans about these schemes.
“Veterans Day, which is right around the corner, is a day to honor those who served our country and it is a reminder of our responsibility to serve veterans in return,” said Senator Casey. “It is unconscionable to me that someone would stoop so low as to steal money from someone who has sacrificed so much for our country. We must fight back against unscrupulous con artists by ensuring that not one more Veteran loses one more penny to a scam. I urge the VA to do more to combat scams against Veterans.”
According to a 2017 AARP report, 78 percent of Veterans reported receiving a scam attempt related to their veteran status. The same study also found that Veterans are twice as likely as civilians to lose money to a scam.
In order to protect those who have protected our country, Senators Casey and Susan Collins (R-ME), Chair of the Special Committee on Aging, joined by 11 members of the Committee, are sending a letter urging the VA to play a more active role in combatting financial exploitation by scammers. In the letter, the senators cite an October 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that the VA does not centrally collect or analyze information assessing the threat of scams against Veterans receiving pension benefits.
Senator Casey invited Sgt. LaVerne Foreman, an 82 year-old Veteran from Herndon, PA, to testify at the hearing about his experience losing money to a Veterans charity scam. “It isn’t easy to talk about being scammed, but what I am doing today is an extension of my service,” said Mr. Foreman. “These scam artists rip-off innocent people, and as a result, contributions are diverted away from the organizations actually doing the work of caring for those who served and who are now in need...On behalf of Veterans, I ask everyone who can help to stop this activity to play their part.”
Read the bipartisan letter to the VA here and below.
The Honorable Robert Wilkie
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420
RE: Scams affecting America’s Veterans
Dear Secretary Wilkie:
We are concerned that America’s Veterans are being targeted by unscrupulous scammers who are seeking to rob them of their life savings and defraud them of the benefits they have earned in service to our country. It is imperative that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) take action to alert our Veterans to the risk of these scams, and what can be done to combat them.
Studies show that Veterans are disproportionately affected by scams. An AARP study from 2017 found that Veterans were twice as likely as non-Veterans to lose money to a scam. The same report found that nearly 80 percent of Veterans had reported being targeted by a scam that related to their Veteran status.
Several types of schemes are used to steal money or personal identifiable information from Veterans. For example, scammers may contact Veterans pretending to collect money to help other Veterans, pretend to “update their file” to obtain their personal identifiable information, or inform veterans that they qualify for a “secret” government program that requires an initial payment. Others charge inappropriate fees for helping Veterans apply for the benefits they have earned, or swindle them out of their life savings in aid and attendance scams where victims are coached into restructuring their assets in a way that could be financially detrimental and cause issues with qualifying for benefits down the line.
In October 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that examined financial exploitation of Veterans eligible for benefits and identified actions the VA can take to better protect these Veterans. According to GAO, although various components within the VA receive reports of potential fraud or exploitation, the agency does not centrally collect or analyze this information to assess the prevalence of scams, inform outreach efforts, or help law enforcement pursue scammers. GAO recommended that VA systematically collect and assess information from its components on potential financial exploitation. While the agency concurred in principle, it proposed an alternative approach to develop a referral process to the Federal Trade Commission, publicize the process to beneficiaries and make this information available to VA’s Office of the Inspector General to aid in investigations. GAO noted that while this would be a positive step, it would not fully address the underlying issue.
As scammers become more sophisticated in their efforts, it is imperative that VA play an active role in combatting financial exploitation posed by scammers. Veterans and their families have a right to expect that the nation they served will fight to protect them from such unscrupulous tactics. With that in mind, we request responses to the following questions:
- Has the VA examined the extent to which America’s Veterans have been victimized by the type of scams described above, or other forms of financial fraud? If so, to what extent are these scams deliberately structured to target Veterans?
- How is the VA working with federal and state agencies and stakeholder groups to protect Veterans from financial frauds?
- What has the VA done to educate Veterans and their families about these frauds, and the steps they can take to combat them?
- How will the VA’s proposed approach in response to GAO’s recommendation provide the agency with the ability to assess the prevalence of scams targeting Veterans and inform outreach and education efforts?
- What plans does the VA have in place to increase these efforts, and what further legislative or regulatory authority does the VA need to do so?
It is critical that Congress fully understands how our nation’s Veterans are affected by financial fraud, and what Veterans Affairs is doing to protect them. We look forward to your prompt response to this inquiry on or before Thursday, November 21, 2019.