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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Financial counselors are encouraging servicemembers to be wary of businesses using predatory practices to sell insurance and investment products.

Instances of military personnel being swindled into buying overvalued insurance promising cash value returns are on the upswing across all branches, officials said this week.

On Okinawa, insurance agents are pitching shady sales on and off bases, said Joe Cassidy, operational readiness support program manager at Camp Foster. The program provides financial education, training and counseling.

Cassidy said while commercial solicitation is allowed on military installations, businesses must comply with Defense Department guidelines that prohibit door-to-door solicitation, selling products to a mass audience or telemarketing pitches to workplaces.

Part of the problem is that servicemembers don’t fully understand what they’re buying, said Anthony Green, a personal financial management specialist at Foster.

Agents target young and financially inexperienced servicemembers who see the insurance as additional coverage that will also provide a savings, Green said.

"They’re trying to make wise decisions," he said, but the price of the product versus its reward does not add up.

Green said insurance agents will pose as financial advisers on veteran benefits, or salesmen conducting quality-of-life surveys about military benefits.

Insurance scams and questionable sales tactics have been a long-standing problem at military installations worldwide. And with a tanking economy, sales agents are desperate to beef up their revenue, Green said.

"We see the increase coming," he added.

A list of barred agencies is available under the Personal Commercial Solicitation Report at www.commanderspage.com.

Cassidy said servicemembers should be mindful of high-pressure tactics to sign on the dotted line, and are encouraged to have a financial adviser at a base personal services center review copies of contracts and information.

Servicemembers also should get rough estimates of product costs and an agent’s business card, Cassidy said.

"We’re simply saying, be sure the product is understood," Green stressed. "Before anyone should sign a contract, the person should be able to explain it. If they can’t explain it, don’t sign it."

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