After a lifetime of living and working with servicemembers, I know that the young men and women who volunteer to serve this nation are a resourceful group. Self-reliance, tenacity and a single-minded focus on mission accomplishment are all characteristics that make our servicemembers highly effective in training and in combat. Unfortunately, these same traits can leave our servicemembers vulnerable to deceptive and unfair business practices when they try to tackle consumer financial problems by themselves.
Fortunately, they don’t have to handle those problems alone. Our country’s defenders have a first line of defense of their own when it comes to consumer issues.
Today, the first Military Consumer Protection Day (MCPD), we’re joining 26 other federal, state government, and non-profit organizations – including the Department of Defense, the Federal Trade Commission and Military Saves – to highlight free consumer protection resources for military members. These resources can help servicemembers, military families, and veterans guard themselves against consumer fraud and make better-informed decisions when managing and spending their money.
Even though the purpose of MCPD is to help the military community learn about the various laws, agencies, and resources that protect them from financial harm, servicemembers should realize that they are the key to making sure all those resources work effectively.
So, listen up, servicemembers! Here are four ways you can help strengthen your consumer defenses:
- Know when to seek advice. Servicemembers all have a military occupational specialty. Combat engineers who build bridges wouldn’t try to do the job of drone pilots or tank mechanics. So, why would you try to do the job of a Personal Financial Manager or JAG attorney? Get free advice from a qualified professional on base before you sign a contract, make a big purchase, agree to payment terms, or enter into any financial deal that you don’t fully understand.
- Understand your rights. Servicemembers know that good intelligence is essential for mission success. Your personal finances are no different. Laws like the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) or the Military Lending Act (MLA) were created to protect your financial security and are enforced by government agencies with the power to stop those who would violate your rights. But you can’t invoke your rights if you don’t know what they are! Make sure you get up to speed on the SCRA, MLA and other consumer protection laws.
- Know who’s looking out for you. There are a lot of companies that promise to help you out with a consumer issue or financial problem…for a price. Unfortunately, many of these companies charge for a service that you can get for free or can make your problem worse because they aren’t qualified to help you in the first place. Take the time to learn which federal, state, and non-profit groups handle which consumer issues and what help they can give you. You can find a list of trusted resources and ways to contact them on military.ncpw.gov.
- Act fast if you get into trouble. Remember that people and businesses who target and financially exploit servicemembers are counting on you suffering in silence. It’s extremely important to seek help quickly if you get into financial trouble. It’s just as important to submit complaints to the authorities responsible for dealing with those who target servicemembers. We take complaints on bank products and services, credit cards, credit reporting, mortgages, student, auto and consumer loans, debt collection and money transfers.
Remember, MCPD was created specifically to empower servicemembers, veterans and their families with information and resources. Visit military.ncpw.gov for more information and a list of events in your area.