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A little caution goes a long way in avoiding scams and fraud

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Members of the military are frequently targeted by scammers and frauds looking to make a quick buck.

In 2014 the Federal Trade Commission received more than 26,000 complaints from military personnel for identity theft alone. When a target that big is painted on your back is there anything you can do to protect yourself? The good news is yes, there is.

There are many resources available to Airmen to help avoid dubious situations or, if it is too late for preventative measures, how to straighten things out in the aftermath.

"We can help them," said Chris Fornander, accredited financial advisor and personal financial readiness expert with the Airman & Family Readiness Center. "We can help them and it won't cost them a dime."

Many people assume they will not fall prey to scammers and identity thieves, but statistics show it does happen with frequency. The FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network report showed 98,087 complaints from military consumers in 2014. Of those reporting branch of service nearly 17,000, or 19 percent, were Airmen. The Army (48%) and Navy (21%) topped the list.

Of complaints where military status was reported the hardest hit group was retirees and veterans at 66 percent of complaints. Dependent spouses and active duty service members combined for 20 percent.

When pay grades were reported, junior enlisted personnel made up 72 percent of FTC complaints. Enlisted consumers reported debt collection and identity theft as the top two complaint categories; Officers reported identity theft most often followed by imposter scams. About one in four U.S. citizens file reports with the FTC, but how many do not report is uncertain.

Fornander's information is similar. She said the big three she heard about are rental scams, predatory lending, and debt collection scams. The emotional nature of these situations lends itself to making people easier prey for scammers.

"Military members don't want to share when they are in trouble," Fornander said. "It's highly personal and stressful; sometimes it is easier to go with a guy down the road who says he can make it all go away."

Many service members are not from the area where they are stationed and not familiar with resources available. Because of those conditions, Fornander said it is more likely the first phone call or piece of mail claiming to offer help is accepted.

"We can talk about all of those things. We have materials on-site," she said. "We have a book; they can get it free if they are a victim, which tells in step-by-step detail how to deal with (problems). We will help with identity theft, credit reports, debt and budgeting and saving and investment."

One of the best ways to avoid scams is to not use a debit card, Fornander said. Using them allows scammers access to your bank account. If consumers don't want to use credit cards, she suggests cash. In the Colorado Springs area fast food restaurants are the most common places where debit card scams take place so she advises caution.

To stay clear of rental scams use only reputable agencies and agents. She said Leisure Travel on any military installation can provide safe suggestions. High pressure up front to "rent now" and not miss the opportunity should be a red flag.

A good method to fight identity theft is simply using cash. Regularly checking credit reports can help catch identity theft as well. She suggests annualcreditreport.com which is a government site created to allow a free credit report check annually.

"Make sure you are reviewing your activity frequently, especially bank accounts," Fornander advised. "Know amounts and places you made purchases. Set up alerts at zero dollars to trigger all activity so you know sooner, rather than later."

For information or help contact Airman & Family Readiness Center located in Bldg. 350 at 556-6141.

For more information visit:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau http://www.consumerfinance.gov/

Stop Fraud Colorado http://www.stopfraudcolorado.gov/  (see the military tab)

Federal Trade Commission http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft

http://www.annualcreditreport.com

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