Consumer Protection: Military Members May Be Targets, But Have Lots of Places to Turn

As posted on July 12, 2013 on www.military.ncpw.gov

By Lila Quintiliani, AFC, Assistant Coordinator Communication & Outreach, Military Saves

Because of their steady income, their highly mobile lifestyle, and the fact that they are held to higher standards of debt repayment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, servicemembers can fall prey to a variety of scams including identity theft, telemarketing and phishing (which is when crooks attempt to get personal information from you that they can then use to defraud you).  Scammers take advantage of those who are financially vulnerable and lacking in financial education.  

Knowledge is Power

The best way to avoid a scam is to know what one looks like.  Con artists have become increasingly sophisticated.  While some phishing scams are badly spelled emails from “Nigerian princes,” others may look exactly like a message from your financial institution, down to the logo and the wording.  The non-profit Consumer Federation of America recently released a document on phishing scams and another on telemarketing fraud.

It’s also a good idea to periodically check credit reports for suspicious activity.  Americans are entitled to one free credit report per year from each reporting bureau.  Active duty servicemembers and their spouses who take the Military Saves Pledge can get a free myFICO credit score courtesy of the FINRA Foundation. 

Know Your Rights

Consumers have rights when it comes to telemarketing calls: calls must be between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm and the caller must identify whether they are from a charity or business and whether they are selling something or soliciting a donation.  Sales calls can be stopped by registering on the National Do Not Call Registry, but charitable calls, political calls and surveys are not affected nor are calls from a debt collector.  

Be As Smart as Your Phone: Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

An Emergency Fund is a Good Defense

Some of the worst scams servicemembers encounter are those related to getting “fast money.”  The best way to combat this is to have a $500-1000 emergency fund in place.  This way, when military families encounter one of life’s obstacles, such as car repairs or emergency travel, they are not scrambling to find cash.

Even those who think they can’t afford to save can generally find ways to cut back so that they can gradually build up an emergency fund. 

The Military Saves Pledge is a promise to oneself to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.  The organization is a partner in the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign.  MilitarySaves.org is a trusted source for servicemembers and their families to find tips on saving and information on a variety of financial topics.