By Mr. Allen Shaw (Wainwright)August 24, 2012
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- (August 24, 2012) Members of the military have long been a target for businesses that mostly prey on the young, transient population who have a constant paycheck, an accessible supervisor and a need for nice things that seem attainable --especially if it's a good deal. It's also appetizing that if they don't get paid, they can often garnish a Soldier's pay.
"If it seems too good to be true, it is," said Ed Sniffen, assistant to the Alaska Attorney General's Office for Consumer Affairs in Anchorage. "It's not 'usually' too good to be true, it is," he said.
Sniffen spent Tuesday morning at Fort Wainwright with Holly Petraeus, executive director for the United States Government Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of Service member Affairs. Petraeus and Sniffen met with local media at the Last Frontier Community Activity Center and then participated in a town hall meeting with Soldiers and Family members to discuss the challenges of military life and monetary repercussions spenders often face.
Petraeus said although there are many businesses out there that truly do have an interest in providing benefits to those serving in the military, there are "bad guys" looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation. She said, "There are three main things our office does. First and foremost is providing education so the consumer can make better decisions. We want them to think before they sign that contract, because once they do, it's hard to do anything for them." The CFPB is working closely with the Pentagon toward consumer education for service members because, "they have the boots on the ground."
The second thing she wants people to be aware of is that the CFPB accepts complaints. "Although we just started in January (2012) we have only gotten 2,400 complaints," said Petraeus. "We have been able to recoup more than $240,000."
She also said it's not always money. In some cases it's just a matter of service issues. "When they can't get help from a financial institution or a response and that institution gets a letter from us, on our letterhead, suddenly they (the institution) return calls."
The third thing Petraeus and the CFPB want Soldiers and Family members to know is that they work closely with federal and state agencies toward consumer protection for the military. "That's why the assistant Attorney General of Alaska is here with me today," she said.
Sniffen pointed out there are many resources available on post for financial education, counseling and consumer assistance. "There is also help at the state level, " he said, "If there are Alaska businesses doing things wrong, we want to know. There is an Alaska Consumer Protection Act in place. We can investigate, we can take action and we can impose fines."
Petraeus also reiterated the fact that the CFPB "Is not only here to educate, but we can also take people to court and punish. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has the teeth to enforce the law," she said.
Other topics covered during the town hall were "red flags" consumers should be aware of, such as: anyone who wants you to wire them money in advance, online pay-day advances or purchasing anything sight-unseen.
Petraeus, who is married to Gen. David Petraeus (Retired), director of the Central Intelligence Agency, spent 37 years as a military spouse and is "well aware of the challenges," is traveling to military installations around the country telling service members and their Families, "I am willing to do whatever I can for them at my office and if they have problems with financial institutions, come to us."
For more information on the CFBC, visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov.