SANTA MARIA - It's a troubling trend developing with our nation's true heroes.
More and more veterans are becoming victims of fraud and various other scams.
Many are elderly vets, but more and more men and women returning from Afghanistan and other parts of the world are also being preyed upon.
They are coming home to loving families and a grateful nation.
For some veterans transitioning back to civilian life, they're also easy targets for scam artists.
"There's quite a bit of that happening with some of the vets", says Vietnam Vet Edward Jones.
Jones says vets returning home after years in the military are vulnerable.
"When you are kind of desperate and looking for something, you want to grab all the opportunities that you think are there", Jones says, "that's when you are getting taken."
"It's a hard thing to come back and trust, like who do you trust?", adds Sylvia Barnard who works with homeless veterans through Good Samaritan Enterprises in Santa Maria, "they have been working in an environment that's very structured, that's really protected our country, and to be able to fight for our freedoms, and then to come back into the regular population and try to figure out how they maneuver through everything is really difficult."
"If someone asks a veteran to pay them money to do something, then you need to think twice about that", says Frank Campo of the American Legion which helps returning veterans find jobs and other support services on the Central Coast.
"When it comes down to money or something, a lot of these young men and women, they're young, they have a family", Campo says, "they're going back to school and they can't find a job so they're just reaching out there and its easy to be taken advantage of."
While the VA provides a wide variety of services to help vets with their transition to civilian life, it doesn't always include helping veterans protect themselves against scam artists.
Website Scambusters.org lists the following seven most common scams targeting veterans:
1. Special deals for vets… usually offering a discount on things like loans, car purchases and house rentals.
2. Phishing... The most common trick here is for the scammer to phone the victim, claiming to be from the Veterans Administration, who supposedly needs to update their records.
3. Dubious investment advice… solicitors calling themselves "veterans advocates" target vets in community centers and nursing homes, claiming their victims are entitled to additional benefits.
4. Charging for military records… a well-known con in which people are fooled into paying for information that's already available for free.
5. Nigerian scams… well-known variations of the Nigerian scams, which try to fool people into handing over money and use the military as a cover story.
6. Bogus Charity fundraising
7. And Bogus selling… a door-to-door solicitor claims to be a vet or to be working for an organization that supports veterans.
Currently, those convicted of preying on veterans for ill-gotten gain face the same legal consequence as other scam artists found guilty of fraud and larceny.
Veteran advocates say there's more the government, courts and the public can do to help protect those who protected us with their lives.
"Its happening all over", says veteran Edward Jones, "you read about a lot of the veterans who's last penny has been taken and I think that its not good."
"These are things that are happening more and more particularly with the Internet", says Central Coast State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, "the sophistication level of these scam artists, is just getting greater and you know they are preying on the folks who have fought hard to keep us safe and they are elderly or they are just far too trusting."
"That's why I encourage any veteran out there to get involved in your local Veterans Organization", adds Frank Campo, "we have first hand information on that kind of stuff."
Most veteran advocates agree the best way now to help vets avoid being scammed is greater public education and outreach.
Some good tips to always remember, avoid giving personal or financial information over the phone or Internet and if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
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