Helping protect those who protect us
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
We appreciate and respect the sacrifices that members of our military and their families make for our country, but unfortunately there are some people who try to take advantage of our men and women in uniform. The Second Annual Military Consumer Protection Day is July 16 and my office is joining with government organizations and businesses across the country to raise awareness about problems that target military consumers.
Men and women currently serving in our Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves are often young, away from home for the first time and earning their first steady paycheck. Unfortunately, this can make them a prime target for scams and frauds.
Here are some of the most common consumer problems that military personnel face:
Active duty military members deployed overseas are often vulnerable to identity theft since it is more difficult for them to monitor their credit. One way to protect yourself is to put a free active duty alert or security freeze on your credit to help make sure no one takes advantage of you when you are out of the country. These active duty alerts last for a year and require businesses to verify your identity before they issue new credit in your name. You can designate a personal representative, such as a spouse, who can verify your identify or remove the active duty alert while you’re away if needed.
Credit Cards and Loans
Military members can also be the target of unfair lending practices. Be wary of businesses that promise easy access to loans and credit cards even if you have bad credit. Many of these businesses will offer to help you secure a loan for an upfront fee, which is illegal in North Carolina. While quick access to short term loans may seem like a great idea, all too often military members get cheated by high interest rates and fees or downright fraud.
Military members should be especially careful when buying a car. Shady dealers will sometimes push overpriced used cars on unsuspecting service members, or load up the financing on a new car with expensive options you don’t really need like extended warranties and extra insurance.
One common auto scam, called the Yo-Yo, happens when an unscrupulous car dealer calls a couple days after completing a sale and claims the financing has fallen through. The salesman will try to squeeze more money out of the car buyer by saying you need to pay more cash to keep the car or renegotiate the loan with a less favorable interest rate. If you refuse, you may find your car blocked in on the sales lot or be told that your trade-in vehicle has already been sold. In some cases the dealer may even refuse to refund your down payment.
However, in North Carolina you have a legal right to request that the original deal be “unwound” if you buy a car and the financing falls through, with all of your money refunded.
To avoid problems that target military consumers:
Watch out for scammers who try to gain your trust by claiming a connection to the military.
When preparing to deploy, put an active duty alert or a security freeze on your credit report.
Be cautious when buying a car, particularly a used car. Get a used car inspected by a trusted, certified mechanic before you sign any paperwork or pay any money. Remember that used cars are typically sold “as is,” meaning the dealer isn’t responsible for fixing problems once you drive the car off the lot.
Don’t get pressured into buying unnecessary insurance or putting your money in risky investments. Choose reliable ways to invest your money, such as the military’s Savings Deposit Program, and max out your government-issued insurance before you buy any other.
Beware of “advance fee” loans and credit cards. Remember, legitimate lenders will not charge you money upfront.
If you think you’ve been tricked or gotten a bad deal, file a complaint with my Consumer Protection Division at www.ncdoj.gov or call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina. Filing a complaint will not hurt your military record, and we won’t communicate with your chain of command unless you ask us to.
More tips for military consumers and their families are available at ncdoj.gov/military.aspx
and have also been shared with military installations statewide.