When servicemembers board the plane to return to the United States from deployment overseas, their family and friends are not the only ones waiting for them. Scam artists are also busy setting up store fronts, phone lines, and websites specifically targeting servicemembers.
These consumer predators know that servicemembers have to deal with distinct pressures, such as spending extended periods of time abroad, moving to different cities multiple times, and being held to a higher standard for debt repayment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In addition, servicemembers are known for having a steady income and trying to do what is best for their families.
At the Department of Justice, we are working hard to protect consumers like you. The Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch has made fighting fraud aimed at servicemembers and veterans a top priority. We are working internally with the department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that businesses respect the rights of servicemembers. And we are working externally with other agencies, such as the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, to identify potential fraud earlier.
We are also collaborating with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, led by Holly Petreaus, to engage in a dialogue with military leadership about how we can prevent this fraud together. And we have joined forces with federal and state prosecutors — as well as the JAG Corps — to identify scammers and bring more cases against them. In fact, we are sending resources to the JAG/legal assistance officers at bases nationwide, so they can help you get relief from consumer fraud, while providing referrals that help us bring more enforcement actions to stop that fraud.
We are committed to using all of the tools at our disposal to hold these swindlers responsible. But the best way to fight them is to deprive them of customers.
Servicemembers of each military branch have told us about their experiences, and we are dedicated to getting their message out — not just as we celebrate National Consumer Protection Week, but every week. Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself and your family:
1) Be wary of up-front fees.
The sales pitch: “I can help you access benefits, get a good rate on a loan, and make a great investment. All you need to do is pay me an up-front fee.”
The defense: The military offers legal assistance, interest-free emergency loans and financial planning tools. Ask your military installation offices for details.
2) Always find out what the total price is.
The sales pitch: “I’ll sell you this car, refrigerator, or anything else you want. Just give me a little bit of money every installment.”
The defense: Salespeople can offer misleading information about how much something really costs once all the payments and fees are added up. If the total price is too high, take your business elsewhere.
3) Don’t trust promises about the future.
The sales pitch: “Just buy the car with this higher interest rate, and I’ll call you later once I get the lower interest rate for you.”
The defense: Make sure that everyone agrees to the final terms of a deal before you hand over any money.
4) Find out who you are dealing with.
The sales pitch: “I’m a veteran of the armed forces. Sign up with my program to make sure that your family has everything they need while deployed overseas.”
The defense: Ask your base community service office about the company or individual. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau.
If you have been the victim of a scam, we encourage you to come forward and complain. So often, financial fraud goes unreported because victims feel embarrassed or foolish. But only when you complain is it possible for you to get the help you need. And only when we know there is a problem can we and our law enforcement partners work to stop it. So, consult your military installation’s legal assistance office or your state attorney general — and log your complaint at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.
With your help, we can continue to ramp up our fight against those who prey on the financial well-being of you and your families, and leave you free to focus on your invaluable work protecting the nation.
Thank you for your service.
Stuart F. Delery is acting assistant attorney general, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice.