May 16, 2014

BBB: Arming military families with consumer information

Tight economic times bring special financial challenges to Americans who serve in the military.

Tight economic times bring special financial challenges to Americans who serve in the military.

Accordingly, since 2004 military members and their families have benefited from the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line. As we celebrate Armed Forces Day on Saturday, it’s a good time to consider the help that this service offers, especially in the fields of financial literacy and consumer protection.

By visiting and then clicking on the Military Line button, military members and their families can access a variety of helpful information. The Free Resources page offers a list of publications, website links and links to free apps. Topics include emergency financial resources, housing issue assistance, personal financial advice, identity theft and online fraud defense, and transitioning from military to civilian life.

Financial literacy

Downward debt spirals are all too common among military members and their families.

As minor debts steadily increase until they seem to threaten the very survival of one’s family, service personnel can find themselves tempted to turn to payday loan outlets. Excessive interest charged on such loans makes them a poor choice for helping debt management. Similarly, continuing to accept offers for pre-approved credit cards can only multiply debt problems.

Resources on the Military Line website can provide direction to better ways of debt management. Targeting specific debts and prioritizing them can open a way of getting out of the debt trap. A slow and steady program for retiring your debts almost always beats “quick fix” attempts.

Plans for setting out on such paths to personal financial management are easily accessible at the Military Line website.

Consumer protection

If only it were the case that all Americans appreciated the sacrifice and hardships that military families must deal with. Unfortunately, there are lots of opportunists out there lurking to victimize service families instead of helping them.

Watch for these frequent scams that target the military:

• “Instant approval” military loans have sky-high interest rates and hidden fees. Upfront fees are always an indicator of a scam.
• Buyout plans for veterans’ benefits pay you only 30 to 40 percent of what you are entitled to. Read the fine print before signing.
• Discounted car sales to military members often require upfront wire transfers of fees and are offering problematic vehicles.
• Life insurance policies may come with false benefit promises. High-pressure sales techniques are a red flag of a scam.
• Claims that you need to update information for the VA are really attempts to “phish” for your personal information. Veterans Affairs will never call and ask you to update information over the phone. It is a scam.
• “Low cost” offers to help you obtain military documents are unnecessary. Those documents are free through government agencies.
• A phony jury duty summons claiming you failed to show up and requesting Social Security numbers and credit card information are always scams. Hang up or delete the e-mail.

Sign up for the BBB’s e-newsletter called “Trusted Scout” and you can receive monthly updates about the latest scam attempts to avoid. This is available for free at the Military Line website.

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