California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta speaks at Naval Base San Diego. Photo courtesy of his office

California Attorney General Rob Bonta met with Navy leaders at Naval Base San Diego Friday to discuss some of the most prevalent scams targeting service members.

The roundtable discussion centered on predatory schemes affecting sailors in San Diego, where the Attorney General’s office said service members are especially vulnerable to being targeted due to the large concentration of military personnel.

One such scheme perpetrated locally involved a company offering supposed free income tax preparation services for military members. The company, Go Navy Tax Services, operated out of a trailer located just outside Naval Base San Diego’s front gate and persuaded service members to purchase retirement accounts.

However, prosecutors say that rather than opening those accounts, the defendants used the service members’ personal information to open life insurance policies without their knowledge or consent, earning the company more than $2 million in commissions stemming from the sales of nearly 5,000 applications for life insurance policies and annuity contracts.

Three people involved in the scheme recently pleaded guilty and were sentenced.

“It is imperative that our sailors and their families understand that there are a number of scams and predatory practices out there targeting them specifically due to their service to our nation,” said Naval Base San Diego Commanding Officer Capt. Ted Carlson.

“The AG’s team worked closely with the Navy to end a major tax scam that defrauded thousands of sailors of millions of dollars, and my team and I are excited to have this opportunity to partner with AG Bonta and his team and discuss how to better protect our military families,” Carlson said.

The Attorney General’s Office said the following scams commonly target navy sailors and other service members:

  • Affinity Scams, in which perpetrators are, or pretend to be, service members in order to coax military members into making purchases and/or investments.
  • Debt Collection and Illegal Threats, in which debt collectors threaten to have a service member’s security clearance revoked, contact command in order to collect a debt, discipline or demote the service member or garnish their pay. The Attorney General’s Office says these are all things debt collectors cannot do.
  • Sweetheart Scams, in which scammers post fake profiles on dating sites and social media to attract service members, often with rapid professions of love and requests for money. The AG’s Office urges military members to never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • Rental Housing Scams, which target military personnel seeking housing near a base. These scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties, sometimes promising military discounts or other incentives in order to get fees or deposits up front.
  • Predatory Auto Sales and Financing Scams, where car dealers located near bases may promise special deals for military personnel. The AG’s Office says the terms of the purchase are often concealed, leading to the service member overpaying for the vehicle and costs of financing.

Anyone who feels they have been the victim of a scam was encouraged to report it at oag.ca.gov/report. Veterans and other members of the public who need legal assistance can go to www.lawhelpca.org.

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