Vehicle sale scams put service members, public at risk

RICHMOND, Va. — Scammers who want to impersonate service members for financial gain or separate Soldiers and Airmen from their hard-earned money might not be the obvious enemy, but the threat they pose to the military is a very real and significant one.

One common scam doesn’t necessarily target service members, but uses their personas to scam trusting citizens.  In a recent article published by the Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia, a man and his elderly father reported being scammed out of $1,400 then they tried to buy a truck from someone claiming to be a member of Bravo Company, 29th Infantry Division, who was about to be deployed.

There is no such unit as Bravo Company, 29th Infantry Division, in the Virginia National Guard, and there are no VNG units scheduled to deploy the rest of calendar year 2019 or early 2020.

The “seller” in this case instructed the victims to purchase eBay gift cards for the transaction, according to the report. When the supposed Soldier then asked for additional money from the victims, the man and his father became suspicious and eventually reported the scheme to local police.

While it is unclear in this case if the scammer used an actual Soldier’s persona, frequently in the past criminals have created social media accounts impersonating actual service members to lure potential victims. More information about protecting against online impersonators can be found here: https://go.usa.gov/xVDxh.

Service members are also more prone to becoming fraud targets than other members of the population, according to a recent study by the Better Business Bureau. One recent auto sales scam in particular has raised particular attention, as it exploits the trusted Army & Air Force Exchange Service name.

Scammers have been using the name “Exchange, Inc.” to try to trick Soldiers and Airmen into thinking they dealing directly with the Exchange in the sales of cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and boat engines, according to a release from AAFES.

The problem? AAFES does not have the authority to sell vehicles or broker private sales. However, this has not stopped some service members from sending money to “Exchange, Inc.” thinking they are buying a vehicle from AAFES.

“For years, scammers have used the Exchange’s trademarked logo and name without permission to purportedly sell vehicles in the United States,” said Steve Boyd, the Exchange’s loss prevention vice president. “Some military members have sent money thinking they’re dealing with the Exchange, only to receive nothing in return.”

The recent scam has been asking for these bogus sales be paid for through third-party gift cards, especially Google Play gift cards.

AAFES offers a few ways for service members to help protect themselves. First, any suspicious payment method requests can be verified or debunked by calling Exchange Customer Service at 800-527-2345.

Second, any suspected fraud attempts or scams can be reported on the Internet Crime Complaint Center website, www.ic3.gov.

Lastly, AAFES reminds military customers that they do not advertise in any online classified websites, and they do not broker any kind of private transaction. They only conduct business at exchanges on military installations or at ShopMyExchange.com.