Scams prevalent around the holidays: Misconception sheds light on the need to be vigilant
WORTHINGTON -- An alert was sent out recently to Veterans Service Officers around Minnesota about a potential scam targeting veterans and their families.
WORTHINGTON - An alert was sent out recently to Veterans Service Officers around Minnesota about a potential scam targeting veterans and their families.
The alert came from Redwood County Veteran Service Officer Marty Caraway, who had received complaints about an organization called Veterans Alliance Center asking about VA home loans. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
The phone number that appeared on caller ID systems showed up as a Minnesota phone number. A cross-reference of the number on whitepages.com revealed the number had been reported as a scam - Most recently as one relating to veterans and several years ago as a phone number for a Visa card winner.
A call placed to the number circulated in the email alert initially seemed to support the idea that this could, in fact, be a scam. The caller who answered did not do so with a company name, and loud music playing in the background nearly drowned out the voice on the line.
When asked to whom the number belonged, the individual began to say she’d called to discuss “your” VA home loan. When told the person who called her was a reporter investigating claims of a scam, she quickly offered to transfer the call to a supervisor.
A couple of minutes later, a person who identified herself as “Jessica” said the company was legitimate but refused to speak to a reporter on the subject.
After the alert was sent, Caraway began digging into the accusations that the company might be attempting to defraud veterans.
“I was getting phone calls from veterans and veterans’ spouses that they were getting cold-called,” Caraway said. “… People talking about ‘I want to talk to you about your veterans home loan eligibility and talk to you about money you could be saving.’”
Caraway said the veterans who called him said they either had never had a VA home loan or hadn’t had one in many years. Caraway said immediately a “red flag went up.”
“The VA will never cold call - ever, ever, ever,” Caraway noted. ”And, they don’t third-party contract with anyone that will cold call, either. They do mass mailings,” Caraway added.
Caraway said he phoned Veterans Alliance, a nonprofit based in Miami, Fla., which said it was not affiliated with the company making the phone calls, but had received multiple phone calls from veterans who were questioning the calls.
Caraway then called the number veterans had given him and was eventually connected with the owner of the business, Matt Barma of Arizona. Caraway said Barma told him the Minnesota phone number veterans were reporting was from a service that creates local numbers for businesses to use.
Unfortunately for Barma, it would seem the number he’d received for Minnesota was one that had previously been used by a fraudulent company. Caraway said after speaking to Barma, he learned Barma was a new entrepreneur who is trying to start a business to help veterans save money.
Barma said he has been in business for about a year and half. He added that when he chose the name, he found the Veterans Alliance name out of Florida was inactive.
“We’re a mom and pop company,” Barma began. “It’s owned by me and my partner, and we’ve done the utmost to push this to help as many people as we can.”
The veterans out here don’t really get the respect they deserve, and there aren’t enough resources,” Barma continued. “I know I’m not going to become a huge hub of resource for quite sometime because it takes time to build that content and networks…. But that is our intention, and that is what we’re going to do.”
Barma emphasized his company does not seek any personal information such as Social Security numbers when it makes telemarketing calls. In fact, Barma said he tells his wife and family not to give out sensitive information over the phone.
“Like I say to my family, anybody who calls you, don’t give out sensitive information - date of birth, Social Security number, credit card, bank, anything, mother’s maiden name. Don’t give any of that stuff out. So we’ve never, ever, asked for that stuff,” Barma suggested.
While this particular case appears to be one of misunderstanding, there are countless scams that target the elderly and others every day. Worthington Police Capt. Kevin Flynn offers a few tips to protect yourself from would be scammers.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of scam it is - first and foremost, if it sounds too good to be true, 99 percent of the time it is,” Flynn said. “Nobody needs to make any immediate decision on the telephone. If somebody’s calling and telling them they need to make a decision immediately, short of a significant emergency, I can’t imagine what that would be.
“Any person that wants to do business with another person or has some type of offer is going to allow them to think about it, research it, speak to somebody else about it,” Flynn added.
“If somebody is real pushy and persistent, that’s just not a decent way to do business. Somebody acting in that manner, you should probably just hang up.”
Caraway offered similar advice to protect veterans.
“If anyone ever cold-calls you, do not accept, do not give out any information,” Caraway cautioned. “Don’t donate money, don’t anything. I don’t care if they say they are with the Wounded Warrior Project. Go online and donate if you want to donate to them. It can be the most recognizable non-profit in this day and age; no one cold-calls you.”