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Service members, their families, and veterans filed more than 33,000 complaints and scam reports with the BBB in 2018. The BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust joined with the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA) in analyzing them to determine the impact of particular scams, as well as unsatisfactory interactions with businesses, on military consumers.

Steven Lepper, president and CEO of AMBA, said, “There are legal protections in place to support service members and their families in the marketplace, but scammers don’t care about what is legal or ethical.” Melissa Bittner, the Executive Director of the Institute said, “Knowing which businesses military families can trust while navigating life in the military is essential, because scammers prey on individuals who must make quick purchasing decisions.” Financial readiness is a core mission of the Department of Defense.

Service members and their families are particularly susceptible to certain scams and mistreatment by certain types of businesses during moves, which occur on average every two to four years. Complaints to the BBB about home warranty companies ranked 2nd for military consumers vs. 10th for all consumers. Problems with apartments and rental houses ranked 7th for military customers vs. 14th for the public at large.

Other home-related industries generating a higher rate of complaints from military consumers were movers, burglar alarm companies, home builders, real estate companies and mortgage brokers.

Complaints about new car dealers ranked first for military consumers vs. 4th for the general public. They included problems with the purchase of the vehicle, maintenance and warranties. Conversely, military consumers were much less likely to encounter a problem with their telephone provider than non-military consumers, perhaps because telecommunication companies work hard to accommodate the military lifestyle.

The riskiest scams – in terms of the prevalence of the scam, the likelihood of falling for it, and the amount lost when the consumer falls victim to it – for all consumers are phony employment offers. But military spouses moving to a new duty station and service members transitioning to civilian life are particularly vulnerable. When they incur a loss, the average is twice as much as for non-military consumers – $2,640 vs. $1,204.

A poor credit record can put service members’ security clearance at risk, which makes them slightly more vulnerable to credit repair or debt relief scams. And again, when they lose money, the average amount ($1,300) is almost twice what non-military consumers lose.

Older military consumers were less likely to fall for a scam than younger ones, but lost more money. This inverse relationship holds true for the public at large and likely reflects the different kinds of scams different age groups fall for.

While the relative incidence of certain scams and unhappy business transactions may differ for military and non-military consumers, the BBB’s advice for avoiding problems is the same for both groups:

  • Don’t succumb to a hard-sell or pressure to make an immediate decision.
  • Check out businesses with the BBB and do an online search for reviews or complaints filed by consumers.
  • Be sure businesses have required licenses and insurance.
  • Thoroughly understand warranties, refund policies and other important aspects of the transaction.
  • Never share personal or financial information in response to unsolicited telephone, email, text or other contacts.

Randy Hutchinson is the president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South. Reach him at 901-757-8607.

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