MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Most of these offers sound too good to be true - they promise money from relatives, quick payoffs, big money for little to no work, small interest for even the worst credit - and they are all scams. They are in emails, billboard signs and come even from the mouths of some of the most honest-looking people.
In a military town, scams tug on service members by using photos of people in uniform to lure them in, or the promise that no matter how bad their credit is, the fact that they're military will get them the lowest rates available. Luckily, there are people who help protect service members from scams that directly target those in a military uniform.
"I think that most businesses and merchants honor our military, but there are other businesses that are on the shady side," said Ray Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general. "Even worse, there are scam artists who try to trick service members out of their hard-earned money."
To help military families discuss their consumer concerns, Cooper and Holly Petraeus, assistant director for the Office of Servicemember Affairs, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, came to the Paradise Point Officers' Club aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Dec. 6.
Petraeus is the wife of current CIA director and retired Army General David Petraeus, and has 37 years of experience as a military spouse. She spent six years as the director of Better Business Bureau Military Line, working to establish relationships between BBB and military authorities by visiting military communities all around the United States and overseeing content posted on six of the BBB Military Line websites.
She now works for the CFTB, where her mission is to ensure military families receive financial education, monitor complaints from military families and respond to those complaints. This way, federal and state agencies can cooperate to improve consumer protection measures for military families.
"Having Holly, who knows about military life and has experience protecting military personnel, (work with us) is invaluable," said Cooper.
This year alone, Petraeus has visited more than seven military installations to include Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif., to see how the military educates its service members and where they need help from the government.
"It's important for me both to get out and send the message that we are here and also to hear from the military personnel themselves and their families what the issues are that are impacting them in the consumer financial arena," said Petraeus.
Petraeus held two round table meetings to start the morning. At the first, attorneys and financial counselors gathered to discuss technical and legal issues related to unfair and deceptive practices by landlords, car dealerships and lenders. The second featured command level representatives
and education experts who could speak from anecdotal experience.
"(One of) the things that came up is the fact that even when Marines enter into a deal that may be unlawful, they feel an ethical and moral obligation to continue to pay," said Lecce. "(This makes) Marines particularly good targets for (scams)."
Petraeus then held a town hall meeting to allow a few Marines and their spouses to share their personal stories and concerns. Some participants spoke of personal experiences with car buying, vehicle repair shops, and of how one business uses a service member’s rank to profile and determine the type of deal they may be able to get.
"We want to protect (service members) from (scams) by educating them, but also by encouraging legislation to protect Marines and their families from this type of practice," said Lecce.
According to the Consumer Finance Office website, the Office of Servicemember Affairs is using its power with the CFPB to make markets work better so they can encourage good business practices while also taking action against business that harm service members.
"There are many challenges facing the service men and women of our country particularly in the consumer area," said Cooper. "With our partnership with this base and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we hope to provide this protection."