Attorney General Schuette recognizes July as Military Consumer Protection Month

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Monday recognized the month of July as National Military Consumer Protection Month to raise awareness about identity theft crimes affecting members of the military.

It serves as an opportunity to remind Michigan’s service members of consumer protection programs and helpful tips available specifically to address the needs of both active duty military and veterans, since July is designated Military Consumer Protection Month by the Federal Trade Commission.

“The men and women who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting our country deserve better than to be scammed by individuals that see nothing more than an opportunity to make money,” said Schuette. “My consumer protection division and charitable trust section are dedicated to protecting all Michigan residents, but especially those individuals who serve our country.”

Common scams

Active military members and veterans are often solicited by scammers looking to prey upon their steady source of income. Since many military families are frequently ordered to change stations, or complete a temporary duty assignment, a move often leaves them unaware of the business climate in their new community. Other fraudsters target unsuspecting young service members living on their own for the first time.

The resources provided below are an overview of common issues active military members and veterans face. The information is informal guidance and is not provided as a substitute for legal advice. The attorney general has a team dedicated to educating the military community about these best practices.

Pension benefit applications and investment advice

Older veterans are an attractive target for un­scrupulous “advisors” or “veterans’ advocates” offering help to apply for additional bene­fits: usually Aid and Attendance (A & A). These so-called advisors – who may be attorneys, financial planners or insurance agents – try to persuade veterans to transfer assets into a trust or restructure their finances to qualify for A & A, which is intended for low-in­come individuals.

What they may not reveal is that these transactions can cause the veteran to become ineligible for Medicaid services or unable to access funds without in­curring high withdrawal fees or other expenses when the annuity or investment product being pitched is unsuitable for seniors.

How to avoid it:

• Applying for veterans’ benefits is free–and so are the forms. Learn more about Aid and Attendance or Housebound Benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ pension page.

• If you need help with the application, use someone accredited through the Veterans Administration (VA). The accreditation means the person is trained to help fill out and file the papers. It doesn’t mean the VA endorses the person’s advice or ethics.

• To verify if an advisor is VA accredited, or to search for an accredited advisor by city or state, visit the VA Accreditation website. Accredited counselors and other assistance are also available through county VA offices.

• Peo­ple with VA accreditation are not allowed to charge for help unless they are attorneys, and only after the veteran’s initial claim has been denied and a Notice of Disagreement has been filed.

Avoiding predatory lending

Active service members are often targets of high-interest lenders, despite the federal Military Lending Act that is designed to prevent predatory lenders from gouging military personnel. Information on lending protections and op­tions for service members is available at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s service members’ page.

Purchasing or leasing automobiles

The Michigan Lemon Law protects you from the purchase or lease of a defective vehicle. In some circumstances, you may be able to obtain a replacement or a refund.

Veterans’ charities

Before donating to or applying for services from a veterans’ charity, it is important first to verify the legitimacy of the charity. Some so-called veterans’ charities are outright scams that prey on the public’s generosity by using the terms “military” or “veteran” in their solicitation scripts, while providing no real services. Other veterans’ charities may perform some nominal charitable benefit, but largely serve their own interests. Always conduct research before giving to an organization.

Schuette is dedicated to protecting Michigan residents who wish to donate to military-themed charities.

For more information, visit the Charities Section of the Attorney General’s website. Additionally, donors are encouraged to search the Attorney General’s charities database. To inquire about a particular organization or to make a complaint, email the Charitable Trust Section.      

Attorney general resources

• The Michigan Military & Veterans’ Legal Services Guide was designed by the Department of Attorney General, in partnership with the Veterans law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, to provide Michigan military personnel and veterans – as well as those who assist them – with a directory of resources to address legal and related issues.

• Located under the “Military” tab on the Michigan Attorney General’s website, there is a directory of Legal Protections & Rights Available to Military Service Members and additional resources for Michigan military and veterans.

• The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection team offers six, free, 45-minute seminars on: Identity Theft; Phone, Mail & e-Scams; Online Safety; Investment Fraud; Home Repair & Improvement; and In-Home Care & Senior Residences.  You can learn more and register for a presentation on the Attorney General’s webpage.

Other helpful Michigan resources and benefits

• Scams Targeting Service Members or Veterans (Financial Fraud Enforcement Task)

• Veterans Benefits & Services Booklet (Michigan Legislature)

• Michigan Veteran Driver License Designation (Michigan Secretary of State)

• Veteran and Military Service License plates (Michigan Secretary of State)

File a complaint

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, please file a complaint with the Department of Attorney General:

Consumer Protection Division PO Box 30213 Lansing, MI 48909; call 517-373-1140 or 877-765-8388; online complaint form at https://secure.ag.state.mi.us/complaints/consumer.aspx.

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