My Two Sense: They Fought for Our Future, Let’s Help Them Protect Theirs

By Michael McLaughlin, Fall 2013 Student Intern

military photo

Despite putting their lives on the line to protect our beloved American liberties, financial fraudsters often purposefully target military families. By shining light on a common deceptive tactic and offering a few investment tips, we can help protect military families’ futures: their life savings.

In order to prevent, we must be able to recognize. Let’s unwrap a common deceptive tactic used against military families: Affinity Fraud.

Affinity Fraud

Affinity fraud is a common tactic fraudsters employ. Affinity scams target certain ethnic, community, or religious groups. The fraudster pitches the scam based on trustworthiness. Do you trust people in your own community more than others? Would you be more willing to buy a product from a neighbor rather than a stranger? If so, you might be a potential victim of an affinity fraud scam.

Affinity fraud occurs when a fraudster is part of an identifiable group or pretends to be part of an identifiable group—like the military—and then uses that trust and friendship that exist within the group to complete a scam. Fraudsters may even enlist respected members of the community from within that group to spread the word about the illegitimate investment they are pushing. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, victims often fail to alert the authorities, and instead try to work things out within the group.

Fraudsters have no shame about fabricating their connection with the military to gain a family’s trust. Fraudsters will even push illegitimate products geared directly to the military, including:

  • Burglar-alarm systems to families of deploying troops.
  • High-fee work-at-home schemes for military spouses.
  • Used cars with questionable titles.
  • Fake life insurance and military investments.

Fraudsters employing affinity fraud will draw upon their connection to you (“You can trust me. I know what it’s like to be a struggling military family.”), encourage you to trust them (“This is an easy decision, and you will become rich. Trust me!”), rush you into decision making (“We have to act fast. This deal is too good to stay around long.”), and tell you there is no time for questions (“I mean I could answer that and send the paperwork, but we really don’t have time for questions. Are you in?”). They may even solicit your investment by noting how much money they have made for someone you know (“You know the Smiths down the street? When Mr. Smith got back from his tour, I sold them this deal. They’re rich now!”). These strategies should set off red flags.

Despite your connection or friendship with the person pushing the investment or product, never make an investment solely on their recommendation, no matter how trustworthy they seem. Remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

You think someone you trust may be trying to scam you, but how do you know for sure? Never rush a decision, and always ask, research, and understand before investing.

Ask

  • Ask your respective base-community service office.
    • Ask if they are aware of the investment or product being pushed.
    • Ask if they know of the investment broker or product salesman.
    • Ask your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).
      • Ask if they are aware of the investment or product being pushed.
      • Ask if they know of the investment broker or product salesman.

Research

  • Research an investment broker’s record.
    • Use Finra’s BrokerCheck tool to obtain information on a broker’s licensing status and any disciplinary action he or she has faced (http://brokercheck.finra.org).
    • Research insurers and agents with your state insurance department

Understand

By doing your homework on an investment and maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism, even when someone you know is making the investment sales pitch, you can reduce the likelihood of falling for a financial scam. Military families, above all, deserve a financially secure future.