Enlisting in the military is no small feat. It requires months of difficult training and years of even tougher service. Some troops are deployed to active combat zones while other spend decades in support roles abroad. Whatever their position may be, soldiers sacrifice themselves for the good of the country.
Many servicemembers volunteer to serve for the opportunity use their veterans benefits to pay for college tuition after leaving the military, but the people behind a marketing scam targeting retired soldiers have collected thousands of dollars without spending a single day in uniform.
Bait and switch
CBS News reported on the scam, which was uncovered by court documents recently made public. The documents indicated that instead of money being sent to veterans for their own use, it was funneled away from them and through a series of organizations – each of them taking a cut along the way. The main culprit is alleged to be a company called Ed4Mil.
Sgt. Barbara Banghart of the Pennsylvania National Guard was one of the veterans affected by the scam. When she first contacted a recruiter, she was informed that everything with her army benefits was in order and that she would be enrolled for a course at Caldwell College in New Jersey.
Without ever setting foot on campus, though, Banghart said that she was sent information for Penn Foster, a school in Scranton, Pa., that does not fall under the military's list of approved institutions.
"What did I get myself into now?" Banghart recalled to CBS News.
Follow the money
The people behind Ed4Mil allegedly used the accredited Caldwell College to activate the tuition assistance funds for use. Ten percent of the funds would go to Caldwell, while the rest would transfer to Penn Foster at exorbitant prices. CBS News reported that a regular prospective student would only pay $708 for a particular course at Penn Foster, while Ed4Mil billed the same course to soldiers at $4,331 and pocketed the difference. The operation may have been running for as long as four years.
Adam Boyce worked as a recruiter for Ed4Mil before he discovered the company's alleged actions.
"I was disgusted that I was helping to recruit the students for so long," he told CBS News. Boyce is the primary plaintiff in the suit against Ed4Mil and Caldwell College.
Sharks in the water
Unfortunately, marketing scams like the one operated by Ed4Mil are not the only ones out there that attempt to siphon military benefits away from the veterans who earned them.
The Department of Defense reported on another scam that seeks to defraud soldiers of their online account information to the legitimate "MyArmyBenefits" website at "myarmybenefits.us.army.mil." In an example of the subtle ways scammers try to bilk soldiers and all consumers out of private information, the fake website's URL differs only slightly – usmilitarybenefit.org – from the real one.
Identifying potential scams
Unfortunately, it has become an essential skill in the digital age to be able to tell the difference between the illegitimate sites and offers from the real ones. Military.com has a rundown of several common tricks that educational and financial scams use to defraud veterans.
First, any offer that gives an absolute guarantee on an educational grant or scholarship is worth more scrutiny.
"No one can guarantee that they will get you a grant or scholarship," Military.com wrote. "And the refund guarantees that are offered usually have so many strings attached that it's impossible for consumers to get their money back."
Another common scheme is for companies to insist on doing all paperwork or research instead of the prospective student.
"Only parents and students can really determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms," they warned.