Military families can take heart, groups are working on their behalf

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller
Holly Patreaus

Holly Petraeus

Military families – not just military troops – can make their voices heard through existing channels to protect themselves  from unscrupulous businesses.

“We want to hear from active-duty, guard, reserve, retirees, family members, and veterans – the whole military community,” says Holly Petraeus, an assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), heading up the Office of Servicemember Affairs, who spoke to a group of consumer financial protection specialists from throughout the U.S. Thursday morning. “And we want you to know you can contact us with questions or complaints about financial products and services.”

The CFPB was established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act). Its mission is to give consumers the information they need to understand the terms of their agreements with financial companies. CFPB works to make regulations and guidance as clear and shortened as possible so providers of consumer financial products and services can follow the rules on their own.

“We learn about their financial challenges by traveling to military installations across the country, talking directly to servicemembers, veterans and their families and by monitoring the complaints they submit to us, as those complaints can find the pain points for military families in their consumer financial dealings,” she says.

A critical part of working with the military is getting them before they make that big buy. To make that easier, CFPB is on Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, and other multifaceted sites.

Patreaus says in 2012, CFPB took more than 3,500 complaints.Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 12.20.50 PM

“That’s not a lot, but we are new,” she says. “And, we didn’t start taking complaints until July 2011.”

Also speaking was Kelsey Bergman, communication director for BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington, who talked about the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line. This free resource to the military communities has been around since 2004. BBB entered in the areas of financial literacy and consumer protection taught by the 113 BBBs across the U.S.

“The idea is to give them information before they become a victim of fraud or scam,” Bergman says. “We do see, going back to complaints.”
The five main components of the program are:

  1. Education – Many Local BBBs on and around military installations teach financial readiness classes to service members.
  2. Outreach – We attend and support community fairs, conferences and other events, speaking with service members and distributing information.
  3. Information – Our website provides a one stop shop for articles, links and consumer alerts for each branch of service. Check out our resources page for free consumer guides written just for military members and find us on Facebook and Twitter. Also, for more information on our program, see our program brochure.
  4. Data Collection – We analyze BBB facts to help show the threats and needs of our military community in the marketplace.
  5. Complaint and Dispute Resolution – Filing a complaint with BBB helps military consumers resolve disputes and alert us to issues affecting the military community at large.
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