South San Francisco, CA November 11, 2015 Submitted by Sheri Boles, CPUC
As we honor our military service members on Veterans Day, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued a consumer alert to Californians regarding scams targeting seniors who served in the military and their survivors. These scams have been reported to the California Department of Justice’s Public Inquiry Unit.
“California’s veterans have made extraordinary sacrifices to keep our nation safe and uphold our most sacred values and freedoms,” said Attorney General Harris. “Sadly, many of our senior veterans are being targeted by scam artists seeking to take advantage of them for a quick profit. My office will continue to protect our veterans and ensure that predators who seek to profit from their service are held accountable.”
These reported “pension poaching” scams prey on veterans and target the financial assistance offered through the Veterans Administration Aid and Attendance Program, which provides pension benefits to financially disadvantaged wartime veterans and their survivors over 65 years of age.
Specifically, pension poaching scams involve unscrupulous insurance agents and their representatives posing as unpaid volunteers or accredited VA representatives who offer to help seniors apply for VA pension benefits. These insurance agents and their representatives lure seniors into buying an annuity or setting up an irrevocable trust to create a false appearance of financial hardship by attempting to conceal the senior’s assets.
Insurance agents and their representatives charge high fees for these services, including undisclosed sales commissions that are paid to the purported volunteer. Targeted seniors may not be fully aware of the consequences of moving their assets into an annuity or irrevocable trust, such as strict withdrawal limitations leaving them without access to funds they may actually need for their care.
Although a VA pension benefits application based on false financial need may be successful, those who receive this benefit may face significant financial and legal consequences if the concealed funds are discovered, including repayment of benefit amounts received. Seniors who receive other VA or government-sponsored benefits that require disclosure of funds held in annuities and irrevocable trusts are especially vulnerable to reversal of their VA pension benefit.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
The Attorney General offers California consumers the following tips to protect themselves from VA pension benefits poaching scams:
- Anyone who asks you to pay money or move assets in connection with applying for a VA pension benefit is likely not a VA-accredited representative. He or she may be an insurance agent or representative who receives a sales commission for selling you an annuity or irrevocable trust.
- Moving assets into an annuity or irrevocable trust could restrict your access to these funds and may have significant unintended tax or legal consequences that outweigh any financial benefit gained from receiving VA pension benefits.
- If you receive VA pension benefits based on false financial need, you could be required to repay any benefits received back to the government.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE OFFERS TO HELP YOU APPLY FOR VA PENSION BENEFITS
If you are approached by someone offering to help you apply for VA pension benefits and you would incur any costs or fees in connection with the service being offered, contact your local VA to determine whether this assistance is reputable. Be wary of sharing personal information over the phone. VA representatives will tell you what you need to know and the advice is free.
A directory of VA centers is available at www.va.gov/directory/guide/
If you believe that you are a victim of a pension poaching scam and do meet the age, military service, and financial need requirements for a VA pension benefit, VA-accredited representatives including Veterans Service Organizations, agents, and attorneys are available to help you file a claim, free of charge.
You can also file a complaint with the California Department of Justice by visiting http://oag.ca.gov/contact/
A searchable list of VA-accredited representatives is available at www.va.gov/ogc/apps/
For more information about VA Aid and Attendance pension benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov/pension.