Federal Trade Commission Site Helps Identify Scams Targeting Military

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – With the economic downturn causing a spike in consumer scams, the Federal Trade Commission is encouraging service members and their families to report their complaints to an online site so it can better target its investigations.

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel/Military provides a secure online database for the military community to report concerns about identity theft, deceptive lending or mortgage practices, debt collection, phone fraud or other scams, said Carol Kando-Pineda in the FTC’s consumer and business education division.

“Filing via Consumer Sentinel/Military helps us follow the trends of how many military complaints we’re getting and from what branches,” Kando-Pineda told American Forces Press Service. “We can target investigations better and plan our consumer education efforts more precisely, too.”

The Consumer Sentinel/Military site is part of a larger FTC database that includes millions of consumer complaints. The information collected is shared only to appropriate civil, criminal and military law-enforcement authorities.

Military users and their families who access the site designate their service affiliation, then follow the prompts to complete the online complaint form – a process officials say takes only about five minutes.

By doing so, Kando-Pineda said, the military community can help authorities target cases for prosecution, shut down scammers, spot patterns of fraud before they become widespread and alert fellow servicemembers and military families to scams.

Military members and their families can be particularly vulnerable to fraud due to nonstandard work schedules, lengthy absences from home, frequent relocations, the privacy of personal information and remote duty locations far from normal U.S. consumer protection channels, defense officials report.

In addition, some scam artists have begun padding their own pockets using the premise of soliciting charitable donations to support military families and veterans, FTC officials said.

Recent complaints to Consumer Sentinel/Military involve payday lending, Internet auction fraud and third-party debt collection, FTC officials reported.

“Apparently these debt collectors are not following the law and are harassing servicemembers in unlawful ways,” Kando-Pineda said, such as calling before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m., or calling at the workplace.

In addition, some scam artists have begun padding their own pockets using the premise of soliciting charitable donations to support military families and veterans, she said.

One scheme involves U.S. consumers getting emails purporting to be from U.S. servicemembers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Kando-Pineda said. The quot;servicemember” claims to have found an investment deal, often involving oil reserves, but needs American help to secure the deal, she explained.

FTC officials said it’s unclear if consumers actually send money, “but it’s clear the e-mails are intended to play, not just on greed, but on sympathy for deployed troops,” she said.

The FTC offers consumer education to teach the military community and public at large about these and other fraudulent practices. These Web-based products are posted on the FTC Web site.

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