“Georgians in the military to get information to protect them from consumer fraud”

Georgia attorney general and Defense Department bureau to join in producing guide for military consumers

By Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Members of the military serving in Georgia are getting new protection to go along with their body armor and camouflage: intelligence.

Intelligence, that is, about potential pitfalls in their off-duty activities as consumers dealing with payday lenders, loan sharks, pawn shops, car dealers and shady businesses of other types. Of course, most businesses aren’t crooked, so the intelligence is designed to help the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women to distinguish the honest from the crooked.

“These people deserve protection, not to have their minimal salaries squandered by unscrupulous businesses,” Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said.

He made his comment Tuesday at a new conference during which he announced cooperation between the Consumer Protection Unit of his office and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The two organizations already have worked together to prosecute some shysters — including an unlicensed lender charging 340 percent interest — but will work closer in the future.

The director of service-member affairs in the Pentagon’s Financial Protection Bureau, Holly Petraeus, was present to confirm her agency’s participation.

The consumer-watchdog foundation Georgia Watch will use the intelligence to develop a reference guide that will be provided to those in the service. Lawyers on the staff of Georgia Watch and Emory University Law School students will write the guide with chapters on topics like car purchases, mortgages, prepaid credit cards, identity theft, debt and other common pitfalls. Olens’ staff will review it to make sure the advice is accurate.

Next October, a $10,000 grant will pay for printing the brochures. Online versions will also be available.

“This will send a strong message that Georgia is serious about protecting our service members,” said John Sours, a veteran who is director of the Consumer Protection Unit.

Petraeus said the guide will educate service members before they get into trouble and help them find relief afterward.

“I’ve moved 24 times in 37 years — including being stationed at Fort Benning and Fort Stewart. Every state is different in how they handle complaints,” she said. “So it’s important to have one resource to consult on how to get help.”

Walter Jones: (404) 589-8424

SOURCE: The Florida Times-Union