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Internet Fraud is Alive and Well: How to Protect Yourself

Fraud is a common occurrence and although most of us think of ourselves as savvy fraud spotters, even the sharpest individuals can be fooled. Learn how to spot a fraud from this story, based on Marines who were recently victims of a scam. How many warning signs or markers can you find?

Recently, a fraudster who we’ll call “Ms. Green” sent a Facebook friend request to a Marine, “Cpl Smith” (names have been changed to protect those involved). Cpl Smith did his research: Ms. Green happened to be a friend of a friend on Facebook. When Cpl Smith reviewed her profile, Ms. Green had a recent status update stating that she was so excited to have been hired by the Marine Corps as a “Debt Consolidation Specialist.” Ms. Green also had several messages and postings from other “Marines” on Facebook thanking her for her help.

Ms. Green said she could take care of all of Cpl Smith’s debt. It would take only one payment made out to her. Ms. Green asked Cpl Smith to take a cash advance on a credit card for $2,500 and send it to a Western Union Account with a different name. Cpl Smith thought this was strange, but Ms. Green was a slick talker. She explained she needed the money up front to start helping Cpl Smith with his debt. Ms. Green also asked Cpl Smith to take out personal loans of $4,000, $500, and $4,500, and borrow on his line of credit from a credit union. Again, the Marine was instructed to send the money to a Western Union Account. After it was all said and done, Cpl Smith ended up owing another $12,000 in debt on top his original debt.

Cpl Smith began working with his base legal team. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Green doesn’t exist and the Facebook page is a fake. Worse still, the credit union Cpl Smith borrowed money from says given they loaned the money to the Cpl Smith, Cpl Smith is the one who owes them for the cash advance and the personal loans (in addition to the original debt Cpl Smith already owed them).  When you are robbed there is no getting the money back.

TO BE CLEAR: the Marine Corps DOES NOT employ “Debt Consolidation Specialists.” We do have Personal Financial Management staff, commonly called “PFMs,” who are MCCS employees and are Accredited Financial Counselors®. We also have have Command Financial Specialists (CFS) who are uniformed Marines appointed by commands and educated on financial management. Personal Financial Counselors (PFC), who are Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) contracted personnel, sometimes supplement the Marine Corps Personal Financial Management Program. None of these personnel will ever ask you for money. Their services are a benefit of your employment with the Marine Corps.

Lessons Learned

How many warning signs or markers did you spot? How can we remain vigilant and what do we do if we spot a fraud? Do you know where to refer a friend who is struggling with finances?

To help protect yourself, get to know what the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can do for you. You can set alerts, file complaints, register yourself for the Do Not Call list, and much more!

For more information on consumer awareness, check out the Consumer Awareness playlist on MarineNet Video (CAC enabled). If you’re searching for more in-depth assistance with finances and debt management, contact your installation’s Personal Financial Management staff.

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