At least two major Army installations and the branch’s service academy have issued scam alerts, warning soldiers and the public about an ongoing shakedown that is targeting the service's newest members. So far, more than 74 soldiers have been scammed out of over $143K, according to one Army installation.
Forts Benning and Huachuca, two bases located on opposite sides of the country that train new soldiers, posted alerts on their Facebook pages over the last week. West Point, which trains new cadets ahead of commissioning them as Army officers, also posted the alert.
The alerts outline a scam in which "unknown individuals" purporting to be noncommissioned officers are calling soldiers, asking them for money to fix a "pay problem" and -- if questioned -- threatening punishment.
"Protecting members of our Army Family is a high priority for U.S. Army Garrison Fort Huachuca," Tanja M. Linton, media relations officer for the installation, told Military.com in an email. "Victimizing and threatening brand-new soldiers who are unfamiliar with Army procedures is particularly repugnant."
The post from Fort Huachuca, which dropped just before the new year and outlined the number of troops affected by the grift and the related costs, said that the base's military police identified the scam as having targeted initial entry soldiers "at multiple duty stations throughout the Army" and "within other uniformed services."
Linton said one soldier who fell victim to the scam went to Huachuca's military police for assistance.
"As part of the analytical process of this investigation, other Fort Huachuca soldiers, who were approached but not yet victimized, were identified," she said. "The investigation broke open a larger scam."
West Point -- the Army’s service academy -- also issued the same warning on Monday, but added that “to date, no West Point personnel have been affected, but we want to make everyone aware of the methods being used to target and take advantage of soldiers.”
Benning posted its alert Tuesday, also reporting that new soldiers, including those in basic combat training, appear to be targets.
"The caller tells the soldier they are from the finance or 'DFAS' [Defense Finance and Accounting Service] and that there is a problem with the soldiers [sic] military pay," the post said. "Then they tell the soldier that to correct the issue and get the appropriate amount of backpay the soldiers need to send money to the caller or a third-party via peer-to-peer money transfer applications such as CashApp, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, and Apple Pay."
A spokesperson for Benning did not know the number of affected soldiers stationed at the base and referred Military.com to the Criminal Investigation Division, or CID.
Military.com contacted the CID -- the Army's law enforcement agency -- about these reported scams. Jeffrey Castro, a spokesperson for Army CID, said that the perpetrators of these scams typically fall outside of the division's jurisdiction.
"It depends on who the scammer is, if that can be determined," Castro told Military.com in a phone call Wednesday. "The soldiers can report it to the [military police] and the [military police] will probably notify CID about it," adding that a crime described by the bases is likely to be handled from the local police level to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, depending on the dollar amount and the scammer.
When asked what a soldier should do if they've been affected by the scam, Castro said the service member can contact their chain of command, local police, on-post military police, CID and/or submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
CID has previously warned about "sextortion" -- a crime that nearly tripled for soldiers during the COVID-19 pandemic in which scammers threaten to publicize victims' "sensitive material" -- typically nude photos -- in exchange for money or favors.
Military.com requested comment from the Army, asking whether the service knew of any other installations affected by the initial entry scam. The service's public affairs office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Active-duty service members and their family members, veterans, reservists and National Guard members filed 207,816 reports of fraud, identity theft and other scams to the Federal Trade Commission in 2021, according to an FTC report -- a 20% increase from the year prior.
While a majority of those reports were made by veterans and retirees, active-duty service members alone saw an increase in reports of nearly 50% between 2020 and 2021. The Army submitted 89,269 reports -- including reservists, veterans and retirees once belonging to the service -- to the FTC, resulting in an estimated $93 million loss.
The number of reports from the Army, and the estimated loss from these scams, was more than double the number from the next highest service, the Navy, though the Army is a much larger service.
"These types of scams can be hard to spot because the caller is typically well-versed on the ins and outs of military life. They often know exactly what to say to make their demands sound believable," Ally Armeson, program director for the Cybercrime Support Network's military arm, said in an email. "Criminals that utilize imposter scams like this one try to pressure you to act quickly so you don't have time to check the facts."
The Cybercrime Support Network is a nonprofit organization aimed at educating people about these types of crimes. One of its programs focuses specifically on military and veteran online scams.
The Benning post and Armeson urged soldiers to handle finances in person at supporting military pay offices. The Huachuca and Benning posts added that "your local military pay office will never ask or require a soldier to pay a debt or receive backpay" through any peer-to-peer transaction services.
"It's important to understand that if the caller is pressuring you or threatening you in any way, it's an indicator that something isn't right," Armeson continued. "Hang up the phone, or stop electronic communication, and notify your chain of command immediately."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.