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Military Families Beware

The following information comes from Army Families Online but it applies to all services.

Across the United States individuals and communities have shown an amazing level of concern and support for Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and their families. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples who see the war against terrorism as an opportunity to make money by targeting military families with all manner of scams. The National Association of Tax Professionals reports that some unscrupulous individuals are trying to obtain credit card information from military families by posing as Internal Revenue Service employees. In one scam, a person claiming to be from the IRS contacts a family by telephone and informs them that they are entitled to a $4,000 tax refund because they have a family member deployed. In order to receive the refund, the family is asked to provide their credit card information to cover a $42 postage fee. There is no $4,000 tax refund available for military families who have a family member deployed. Moreover, IRS employees do not solicit credit card information, nor does the IRS charge postage or processing fees for refunds. In another e-mail scam, military families are being directed to a Web site and asked to fill out a form with their personal financial information. However, the site is not an IRS site and IRS employees do not ask for personal information through e-mail.

Junior-enlisted Soldiers and their families are especially likely to be targeted by money scams because they are often financially stretched. Anyone who has lived near a military base is familiar with strip malls full of businesses offering pay-day loans and cash advances. Often these businesses use words such words as "military," "armed forces," or "veterans" in their company name to suggest some kind of official link to the military. Unfortunately, these short term loans can carry annual interest rates of up to 500 percent, leading the unwary Soldier into even more debt. Recently, DoD has begun a campaign to help military personnel beat debt and avoid loan scams. The Financial Readiness Campaign was announced by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu in May and is designed to teach good money management and fiscal responsibility. The impetus for the campaign was a study submitted to Congress on May 31, entitled the "Report on Personal and Family Financial Management Programs," which indicated debt and financial problems affect military readiness. To assist the DoD's campaign, 26 federal and non-profit agencies will eventually assist in coordinating financial counseling for Soldiers and family members and providing military support organizations, such as Family Readiness Groups, with money management guides.

In the meantime, military families who are facing an emergency expenditure should consider approaching a military aid society for help before going to a private loan company. Army Emergency Relief and the Red Cross can both provide loans and grants. Army chaplains are sometimes also able to provide funds to families in a tight spot. AUSA Family Programs is also offering "Military Families: Money & Mobility," a special booklet to assist Soldiers by helping them to better understand the mechanics of military moves and financial planning. The booklet can be obtained free by sending an e-mail to familyprograms@ausa.org, or by calling 1-800-336-4570 ext. 150 or 151. Consumers should also beware of a scam in which con artists prey on families of deployed troops by promising to provide daily updates on their loved one's welfare-for a fee of $100 per month. But neither the U.S. Government nor the DoD are providing such as service. It's also hard to believe that a private company would be able to offer such a service given operational security and the frequency with which troops move around.

Like many scams, the one described above relies on exploiting people's emotions. What family doesn't want to hear from deployed loved ones, especially when communication during war is so difficult? The key to beating these scams is simply applying some plain common sense and a little background research. Remember the saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is." It's also important for military families to know how they can keep in touch with their relatives overseas. It's vital that spouses know who the unit Family Readiness Group leader is and how to contact the rear detachment. Family members can also sign up for an Army Knowledge Online guest user account at www.us.army.mil which allows them to chat online and exchange e-mail with their loved one. In emergencies, the American Red Cross can send messages to get news to deployed Soldiers. Even in this age of technology, communication with Soldiers deployed overseas is far from perfect. While none of these programs can promise daily updates on a Soldier, they're a far better alternative to being a victim of a scam.

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