A party can report someone posing as a military officer by contacting a local law enforcement agency such as a police department or sheriff’s office. The party can also visit the website for the criminal investigation division of the particular military branch to learn how to report a crime. The answer to whether impersonating a military officer is a crime is complicated.
What Not to Do When Reporting Someone
A party should not report someone posing as a military officer by calling the U.S. Department of Defense and attempting to verify whether the individual is employed. DOD does not verify employment for active-duty military members by telephone. A party may find there is no purpose in reporting someone posing as a military officer if the individual is neither engaged in financial fraud nor in violation of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013.
When Impersonating Military Is a Crime
An individual impersonating a military officer may be engaging in fraud of goods or services, including certain protections for loans. Some states have made it a crime to falsely impersonate an active or reserve service member or veteran with the intent to wrongfully obtain money, property or any other tangible benefit.
In Minnesota, an individual who engages in such impersonation is guilty of a misdemeanor. In New York, an individual who pretends to be a representative of an organization and demonstrates intent to obtain a benefit or defraud another is guilty of criminal impersonation in the second degree. This class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, or double the amount the individual gained from the crime.
Stolen Valor Act of 2013
U.S. federal law provides that those who fraudulently hold themselves out to be a recipient of certain military decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit, are guilty of violating federal law. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 is amended from the 2005 law of the same name. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the earlier version of the law in 2012 and found it to be unconstitutional. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 subjects violators of the act to a fine or up to one year in prison.
Loan Protections for Active-Duty Service Members
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal law that provides protections to active-duty members of the military unable to meet some financial obligations. A lender should have proof of a service member’s active-duty status when offering the individual a loan. This gives the lender notice that the service member must be treated differently from an ordinary borrower.
Military Affidavits and Compliance With SCRA
A party who wants to obtain a default judgment against an individual must first determine whether the individual is an active duty service member. The court in which the party filed the lawsuit will require the party to complete a form or to make statements to verify that the individual is not on active duty. In Massachusetts, the form is called a military affidavit; in Florida, an affidavit of military service. In California, the language about active duty service members is found on the request for entry of default, the state’s standard form regarding default judgments.
The party should review the blank affidavit form before completing it. It is important to be truthful when making statements to the court. If the party is considering completing other types of affidavits regarding a potential service member, she should make sure she is in compliance with state law when providing information.
- U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command
- U.S.Department of Defense, Military OneSource network: Department of Defense and Military Identification Cards
- U.S. Army: Army Social Media, Scams
- Department of Defense: Official Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) website
- Florida Courts: Instructions for Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.912(b), Affidavit of Military Service (11/15)
- U.S. Department of Justice: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
- California Courts: CIV-100, Request for Entry of Default
- U.S. Department of Defense: How can I verify employment for civilian employees and military members?
- Masssachusetts.Gov: Instructions: Military affidavit court form
- Minnesota State Legislature, 2019 Minnesota Statutes: 609.475 IMPERSONATING A MILITARY SERVICE MEMBER, VETERAN, OR PUBLIC OFFICIAL.
- The New York State Senate, The Laws of New York: Section 190.25 Criminal impersonation in the second degree
- 113th Congress, 1st Session: Stolen Valor Act of 2013
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.