Close ranks on scammers targeting troops

Service personnel across our military work hard to earn their paychecks, often in hostile environments around the globe on challenging deployments. Sadly, that regular paycheck, frequent relocation, the stress of deployment, and separation from family and friends can make military households an attractive target for scam artists.

We would like to think our Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel can let their guards down when they are back home engaging in basic activities like shopping for a car or securing a personal loan, selecting the best college or online course to improve their education, or choosing a pension plan.

Unfortunately, each of those activities represents an opportunity for scammers to defraud servicemembers and their families or steal their personal information. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received 73,000 complaints from the military community. Thirty percent of those complaints related to identify theft, which is consistently one of the top fraud complaints reported to our agency. Other top complaints relate to imposter scams, lotteries and sweepstakes, foreign money offers and counterfeit check frauds.

As the nation’s lead consumer protection agency, the FTC brings law enforcement actions and engages in consumer education campaigns to stop fraud against all consumers, including servicemembers, veterans and their families.

In one recent case, the commission charged that one of the nation’s largest refinancers of veterans’ home loans violated the law by falsely representing that low-interest fixed-rate mortgages were available at no cost. Another case brought last year involved debt collectors who harassed servicemembers, sometimes for debts they did not even owe. A military consumer reported that a defendant debt collector told him he could face dismissal from the military for being in debt and that the collector would ruin his military career. In those and other consumer cases, the FTC has acted to stop those unlawful practices and obtain appropriate redress.

In addition to those enforcement efforts, we also cooperate closely with the Department of Defense, other federal agencies and law enforcement partners to stop scams and unlawful business practices that come to our attention. And we work with organizations such as the American Legion to spread accurate and helpful information to military families that is crucial to combatting fraud.

We are looking to do even more to help empower our military and veteran communities. As the daughter of a veteran, I have a particular appreciation for our military and feel we have a duty to do the most we can for those who are willing to sacrifice so much to protect our country.

July 16 marks the second annual Military Consumer Protection Day. Together with the DOD’s Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and more than 30 public- and private-sector organizations including Military Saves, the FTC is working hard to ensure servicemembers have the tools they need to be well-informed consumers.

Our joint campaign, Military Consumer, provides active-duty and retired military consumers with a range of free and easily accessible online resources about how to manage finances, avoid scams and deal with identity theft. I urge military families to take advantage of it.

The website includes tips to help deployed servicemembers place an active-duty alert on their credit reports to deter identify theft, guidance on how veterans can protect their pensions, and questions to ask when you’re looking to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, among other useful resources.

In addition, the FTC will be joining our Military Consumer partners for a Twitter town hall July 16 at 2 p.m. EDT. We hope you can join the conversation, which will focus on identify theft and credit-related topics. Questions can be submitted using #MCPD2014.

It’s time to close ranks on the scammers targeting our military, and, by working more closely together, we believe this is an achievable mission.

Thank you for your service.

Edith Ramirez is chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission.

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