Fort Campbell Army Community Service-Consumer Affairs will mark the 20th annual Consumer Protection Week Monday-March 9 at various locations across post.
Consumer Protection week is a national collaboration to inform and educate Americans about their consumer rights while providing access to free consumer-related resources, said Robyn Smail, consumer affairs counselor.
“The reason why Fort Campbell or any other installation should take part is because of the amount of the personnel that we have here,” Smail said. “It’s not just the Soldiers, it’s our employees – the DOD employees, the contractors and also all of their dependents. They are all consumers in one way or another at some point.”
During the week, ACS-Consumer Affairs will provide community members with information about the products and resources available to them, as well as raise awareness about current scams and identity theft.
“Not only do we try to teach on policies and procedures, we also are trying to give resources with experts on safeguarding identity, financial records, and other elements too so it’s all encompassing,” Smail said.
Some of the most useful resources are the local attorney general’s office, Tennessee Commerce and Insurance agency, Legal Aid Society and Better Business Bureau, she said.
Those who prefer to find help online can visit FTC.gov, NCPW.gov, consumerfinance.gov, USA.gov, military.consumer.gov, TN.gov and BBB.org, Smail suggests. Each site provides free resources for consumer, as well as how to file complaints against business and individuals. The sites also can aid consumers with finding documentation to back their claims.
“They’re very, very user-friendly,” Smails said.
Beginning Monday, the staff of ACS-Consumer Affairs will man information booths stationed at various on-post locations from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. On Monday information booths will be at Hooper Bowling Alley and the Exchange. Tuesday consumers can visit the Warrior Zone and on Wednesday an information booth will be at the USO. On Friday, ACS-Consumer Affairs will host an open house and lunch beginning at 11 a.m. in Room 244 of the Staff Sgt. Clifford C. Sims ACS building, 2601 Indiana Ave. “We’re going to have local agencies that are going to come in,” Smail said. “They’re not giving classes but if anyone wants to come in and actually speak to a representative from those agencies they can.”
Visiting agencies include Tennessee Commerce and Insurance, Better Business Bureau, Legal Aid Society, Fort Campbell Staff Judge Advocate Legal Assistance, Campbell Crossing, and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers.
“We’ll have all kinds of materials out and free giveaways,” Smail said.
Counselors will be available to review contracts like they normally do, as well as provide free car facts and credit scores. The staff of ACS-Consumer Affairs also can help people research companies, but they cannot make recommendations or promote any businesses.
“When people are reviewing contracts before signing them, I know a lot of times individuals feel as if they’re rushed, or they feel as if they fully understand everything they’re signing without actually reading over it,” Smail said. “People really need to take their time.”
Consumers should not let themselves be rushed into a contract by the business or their own time constraints, she said.
“Especially in the state of Tennessee and Kentucky because there is no cooling off period,” Smail said. “What that means is that unless the contract specifically states ‘you have 24 hours’ or ‘you have three days’ … once you’ve signed it you are then bound. There is no wiggle room out.”
Many contracts allow signers to buy their way out, but that can create financial hardship.
“[We’re] really just trying to reinforce to [Soldiers and Families] to use the free resources, use [ACS-] Consumer Affairs, use legal assistance because that is all free to them,” Smail said. “I know it takes a little bit more time, but then they have that piece of mind and they’re comfortable.”
Another big concern is scams. One of most prevalent scams comes from social media.
“People will get to know individuals and businesses, go on websites and everything looks legit but it’s not all the time,” Smail said.
Scammers and identity thieves are becoming smarter and are adept at disguising their true agenda, she said.
One example Smail has experienced herself is “credit card services” calling to offer her a lower interest rate on her credit card. The scammer offers a great deal and vague details to earn a consumer’s trust, but then asked for sensitive information such as the actual card number.
“[Real] credit card services aren’t going to call you and tell you what they’re automatically going to offer. You have to apply,” she said. “Even if you’ve been with this card for many years, you’re the one who has to initiate that. The businesses, the banks, the lenders, they’re not going to initiate it for you.”
Another widespread scam is online dating. Although there are several variations, the two most prominent at the moment involve someone asking for help with money after getting to know the person being scammed. Once the victim sends a check to the scammer, then the scammer has all their bank information.
The other involves a girl talking to a single Soldier until her “father” finds out and calls to extort money out of the Soldier because girl is in fact underage.
“People need to be very careful with who they’re talking to. Make sure you’re not giving out personal information and do your research,” Smail warns.
Smail suggests meeting in public locations and even to go so far as to request identification just to be sure.
“I know that might be uncomfortable for people to do, but unfortunately not everyone is as honest as we want them to be,” she said.
Smail encourages people to come in with any consumer questions and issues because ACS-Consumer Affairs exists to help Soldiers and Families get the best deal for their money.
“There’s no judging here. A lot of people are very nervous when someone is looking at their credit report,” she said. “I don’t care [what your score is].”
Smail meets people who have never even seen their credit report or know how to read it, as well as those with lower scores.
“If you’re trying to build your credit or repair it, we don’t want to focus on [the number] because we already know that there’s work that needs to be done,” Smail said. “Now what we’re trying to do is give you steps on how to build and repair. That’s the important thing.”
Smail said life throws hard balls at everyone no matter their situation, so her job is to educate people on how to fix what has been damaged.
“Unfortunately once upon a time this isn’t something that was taught in high school,” she said. “If they didn’t have parents who taught [them], or school that taught this, then they’re learning on their own. Some people do good with it and some people are not so sure about it.”
In addition to normal business hours, ACS-Consumer Affairs office is open to walk-ins and is open during lunch and on days of no scheduled activities. Smail said clients should bring any supporting paperwork, such as receipts and prior credit reports, in with them to make the visit run more smoothly.
For more information, call 270-798-5518.