Scam Alert: There Has Been an Uptick in Pension Poaching Scams

William Webster, 98, is a World War II Navy veteran and former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He and his wife, Lynda, were targeted in a scam recently, according to an FBI.gov report. When the couple refused to pay the $50,000 requested by an unknown caller, the scammers threatened violence. He called his old department, and the caller is now in prison. “If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” Webster said in a video released in early May by the FBI.

Veterans Are Prime Targets for Scams, Including Pension Poaching

Military retirees and veterans, such as Webster, often face scams specific to their service. Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has seen an increase of fraudsters and non-accredited representatives who are targeting the pension benefits of senior veterans, their dependents, and survivors.

Recently, there has been an uptick in a particular scam called pension poaching, a financial scam targeting those who are potentially eligible for VA benefits.

When pension poaching occurs, the following could happen:

  1. An unethical person posing as an adviser profits by charging a veteran supposedly to assist the veteran in qualifying them for VA Pension benefits but in actuality just pockets the fee charged and does not apply for any benefits.
  2. An ignorant or unethical insurance agent advises claimants to purchase an annuity product (generating a nice commission for the insurance advisor) as a way to shelter their assets in order to get access to a veteran’s pension. While this strategy, if implemented properly, was allowed in the past, it has not been allowed since October 2018. This type of financial exploitation now disqualifies claimants from the veterans pension benefits for which they were attempting to qualify.
  3. An unethical financial advisor may illegally practice law without a license (or may actually pose as an attorney) and set up an irrevocable trust for the veteran, charging the veteran a significant fee, while failing to advise the veteran that they are (a) not an attorney and therefore not legally allowed to draft a trust, (b) that the VA reviews the terms and conditions of all trusts to ensure they are properly drafted, and (c) that the VA scrutinizes all assets the claimant may have transferred in the three years before filing the pension claim.
  4. If pension benefits are approved and the VA later determines that eligibility did not exist, the claimant will be required to repay these benefits to the government.

Pension poaching is rapidly evolving as a method used by criminals to defraud senior veterans, survivors, and their families who may actually be eligible for VA benefits or may not be.

Look Out for These Warning Signs

According to the VA, “Pension poaching scams could also involve a caregiver who requires that the veteran or survivor have their benefits deposited into the caregiver’s bank account. VA benefits should go directly to the beneficiary (veteran or survivor), not the caregiver.”

To avoid being the victim of pension poaching, be sure to look out for the following warning signs:

  • Steer clear of individuals or organizations with financial or benefits pitches that include purchasing an annuity of any type in order to qualify for a veterans pension.
  • Be wary if someone asks for login information. NEVER share eBenefits, VA.gov, or other VA log-in credentials with anyone.
  • DO NOT deposit VA benefits directly into a third-party bank account unless the person is court appointed or a VA accredited fiduciary.
  • Never work with someone claiming to be a veterans pension planner who is not accredited by the VA. I am an accredited attorney with the VA.

What Veterans Can Do

AARP’s latest survey, “Scambush: Military Veterans Battle Surprise Attacks from Scams and Fraud,” finds that veterans, military, and their families continue to be significantly targeted more by con artists and are losing money more than non-military/non-veterans when approached by similar scams or schemes. In addition, among those military and veteran respondents to the survey who received service-related scam attempts, nearly a third reported that they lost money supporting fake veteran or military charities or causes, or updating their military records, and nearly half erroneously signed over their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pension or disability benefits. According to AARP, their findings are in line with public reports by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which received nearly 66,000 fraud complaints and more than 55,000 identity theft complaints from military consumers in 2020, leading to a total loss of over $120 million. The AARP survey goes on to explain that among the top 10 fraud complaints filed with the FTC by veteran and military consumers were:

  1. impostor scams,
  2. prizes/sweepstakes/lottery scams,
  3. travel/vacation/time-share scams,
  4. mortgage foreclosure relief scams, and
  5. debt management scams.

Among the seven categories of identity-theft complaints were:

  1. government documents fraud,
  2. benefits fraud,
  3. credit card fraud,
  4. employment-related fraud, and
  5. tax-related fraud.

Filing a Complaint

If you believe you’ve been targeted by scammers regarding your VA benefits, you can file a complaint via the VA’s national call center at (800) 827-1000, or by visiting the department’s Office of Inspector General online.

For other types of pension fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission or find your state attorney general’s office.

Benefits for Veterans That Help Pay for Long-Term Care

Applying for veteran’s pension benefits can be confusing and arduous. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify or may in the future qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork. Learn more about the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit here.

As a Certified Elder Law Attorney (one of approximately 500 in the country) and an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, I understand both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both programs. Please call us at any time to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Washington, DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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