Military & Veterans Affairs
The Office of Attorney General is grateful and proud of the service of Pennsylvania’s nearly 1 million veterans and military members, as well as their families. Their contributions and sacrifices for the country, the Commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s communities cannot be overstated.
The Office of Attorney General is committed to protecting all Pennsylvania consumers from unfair business practices and scams; however military members, veterans and their families are often specifically targeted by dishonest businesses looking to exploit their patriotism, lifestyle and hard-earned benefits. Consumer issues can hurt a military member or veteran’s personal finances, damage their credit, threaten their security clearance or prevent them from getting a job. Correcting the record can be costly and time-consuming. The best way to prevent being scammed is to be an educated consumer and to protect your personal information.
The transition from military service to college or a new job can be full of exciting opportunities, but at times can be overwhelming. Knowing your options as well as some of the potential hurdles, whether it is understanding the higher education marketplace or knowing the signs of a deceptive job listing, can help you in achieving your personal goals and get a great start to the next stage of your career.
Each year more than 10 million Americans have their personal information — including name, Social Security number, or bank account or credit card numbers — stolen. Thieves use this information to open phony credit cards, bank or utility accounts, and sometimes to use the victim’s identity to secure benefits such as healthcare or government assistance. Having your ID stolen can harm your finances and credit history, damage your reputation, and prevent you from getting a job. Recovering from identity theft can be a difficult, frustrating and time-consuming process, and it costs the United States an estimated $58 billion annually.
Sadly, veterans and military members can be targets for identity thieves who want to steal their benefits or exploit elements of the military lifestyle, like frequent travel.
Have you had your identity stolen? Click here for the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint form.
Predatory lenders offer products like payday loans to customers with high fees and/or exorbitant interest rates, and aim to trap their customers in a cycle of debt. You often see these underhanded lenders outside military installations using patriotic and pro-military slogans and signs. They also use aggressive marketing techniques and online advertising. These lenders know that veterans and military families have a steady and reliable income, limited financial education and that military personnel are held to high standards for debt repayment. However, when approving a loan, these lenders disregard the amount a consumer can afford to repay, and in fact encourage them to apply for extensions or refinance with additional fees and APRs (annual percentage rates) in the triple digits.
The Department of Defense has said predatory lending undermines military readiness and harms military families.
Currently, Pennsylvania is one of 15 states with laws protecting consumers from predatory payday lending, however predatory lenders often seek to repackage their products and have them legalized. Under the federal Military Lending Act, which is enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Department of Defense regulation, service members and their dependents have additional protections including that the APR cannot exceed 36 percent (including most fees and charges); lenders are prohibited from securing the loan by holding a check, car title, or obtaining access to a bank account; terms of the loan may not include mandatory arbitration or a waiver of legal rights; and a clear description of the payment obligations and other disclosures must be provided.
While access to a payday loans’ quick cash may be attractive and sometimes seem crucial to making ends meet, they should be avoided. When seeking aid, consumers should visit trusted sources, like banks and credit unions, which may offer lower interest rates or special rates for military members and veterans. There is also potential help through military aid societies.
Submit a payday loan complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
When you need to purchase a pricey consumer item, like a computer, piece of furniture or appliance, but are short on cash, a retailer claiming guaranteed or easy credit may seem like the answer. However, these offers can have costly strings attached.
Friendly sales people offer “easy credit” and persuade consumers to make additional purchases they don’t need, charge more than the item is worth, convince military members to pay with allotment from their earnings, and charge exorbitant fees and interest, which put the consumer in a perpetual cycle of debt.
The problem is these retailers know the law very well and operate just within its boundaries, and sometimes their tactics leave little recourse for the consumer. It is best to shop around for the item to know what a fair price is. Also try to save for the purchase, but if it’s an emergency and waiting isn’t an option, getting a loan from a credit union or bank is safer and they’ll likely have a better rate so you can save money in the long-term. Don’t pay with an allotment from your military pay. Discretionary allotments were created at a time when online banking didn’t exist. Paying through an allotment limits your flexibility, your options and even some legal protections. Also ask the total price of the product you’re buying, including interest and fees for your loan, not just the monthly payment.
The best way to avoid these dishonest businesses is to be a thoughtful, informed consumer.
File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Legitimate charities need help and many aim to do great work for veterans, members of the military and their families. However, there are important things to know when determining whether a charity deserves a donation.
Know they’re legitimate.
Most charities operating in Pennsylvania are required to register with the Department of State’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations. You can check to see if a charity has complied by calling (1-800-732-0999) or checking online (www.dos.state.pa.us , click on “charities”).
Don’t be tricked by an official sounding name, or one that sounds similar to a well-known group. Many “charities” try to adopt similar names or logos to take advantage of another charity’s positive reputation or try to appear affiliated with the group.
Ask some questions.
Ask how much of your donation goes to helping people or providing services versus being spent on foundering and administrative expenses. All charities should have a printed annual report that includes this kind of information. Ask what the charity’s goals are. Does it align with your goals?
Don’t be pressured into giving.
Take time to consider your donation. Don’t be pressured by aggressive solicitors or sob stories. If a solicitor comes to your door, don’t feel obligated to let them in, and always ask for identification. If a charity calls you can ask if the solicitor is paid or a volunteer, and how much the charity receives from each dollar you donate. It is safest to mail your donation to the charity rather than over the phone or at your front door.
You don’t have to pay for unordered merchandize.
You have no obligation to pay for address labels, greeting cards or other items sent to you that you didn’t order, nor are you required to return them.
The options for advancing your education are limitless. Whether you’re considering a local community college, professional school, traditional four-year university or an online degree, there are programs to meet every student’s needs. But similar to any investment, a consumer should do their homework and understand their options.
For-profit colleges comprise a growing share of the postsecondary education market. Their flexible scheduling and online courses make them an attractive option for many nontraditional students, including military personnel and veterans. For-profit colleges are the right fit for many transitioning service members.
Some for-profit colleges actively recruit veterans because of a provision in the Higher Education Act, which allows them to qualify for additional federal funds by enrolling students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Defense Department’s Tuition Assistance Program.
The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions found that some use aggressive recruiting tactics, and mislead potential students about costs, transferability of credits and job placement rates.
A bachelor’s degree from a for-profit college runs 20 percent more on average than a degree from a public college. Ninety-six percent of for-profit students, including veterans, take out student loans, and low completion rates at some for-profits can mean a student accumulates debt without increasing their earnings potential.
Bottom line, students have to make the choice that is right for them — college is an investment in their future. The flexibility offered by some for-profit schools make them the right choice for many veterans and military members, but like any expensive purchase a student and their family should evaluate their options and make the right choice for them, not because of pressure or misinformation from a recruiter.
Don’t be apprehensive to ask some important questions before you enroll…
- Does the school accept military transfer credits? Ask about the school’s policies regarding credits from military training, nontraditional learning (CLEP, DANTES, etc.), and previous colleges. Have your transcripts ready, and provide them to the school before you begin classes.
- Is the school military friendly? How many veterans are currently enrolled? Is the class schedule flexible for military students? Is there academic and health support on campus?
Once the decision is made on where to attend school, the next step is how to pay for it. Seventy percent of Pennsylvania college students take on student loan debt. Comparing financing options is an important part of being a smart consumer.
Funding options such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, scholarships, grants, work study and federal loans are attractive. But if those don’t make ends meet, private loans – often offered through banks with higher interest rates- may need to be considered. Here are some tips when shopping for a private college loan.
- Talk to the school’s financial aid office. Most legitimate lenders require a form certifying the need for additional aid to cover the cost of attendance.
- Shop around. Look for lower interest rates and loans that offer flexibility if you have trouble making payments.
- Know your rate. Some private lenders advertise very low interest rates – but few borrowers qualify.
- Find your co-signer. Most private student loans require a co-signer, who will be legally obligated to repay the loan if you can’t or don’t.
- Know the lender. Be mindful of direct marketing tactics, which use names and logos to give the appearance of federal government affiliation. The federal government doesn’t send advertisements or solicit people to borrow money.
- Don’t let promotions or incentives sway your decision. Taking on college debt is a serious and long-term obligation; don’t allow a small gift to be the determining factor in your decision.
- Don’t be a victim of identity theft. Don’t provide personally identifiable information over the phone or Internet to someone who contacts you. Always verify that the company you are dealing with is a legitimate one.
Transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce can be an exciting step in your career, but can also be challenging. When plotting your own course of action it’s important to understand your options, and be aware of the employment scams targeting the military and veteran communities as well as potential risks of using job placement services.
Below are some tips on recognizing the signs of deceptive job listings, as well as helpful links on employment protections for veterans and military members, veterans’ preference, and where to find help in your job search.
Many employers recognize the valuable skills and work ethic former military members bring to the work place, and many actively recruit veterans. However people interested in scamming veterans and military members use the same tools to reach out to job seekers including advertising online, in newspapers and around the community.
Below are tips for recognizing deceptive job listings, employment scams or dishonest placement services.
- Paying or being required to provide bank account information to be guaranteed a job. Once someone has your cash, or your bank account or credit information they can use it. Often no job materializes.
- An ad promotes “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs. All federal jobs are announced on the website usajobs.gov, and information is free.
When using a job placement service –
- Be sure it is job placement and not job counseling. Job counseling can aid you in resume preparation, interview techniques and skills identification, but can have high fees without the guarantee of job placement.
- Get the details of your contract in writing. Know the amount you’re being charged, if the hiring company also pays a fee, the timeframe for finding a job, and what happens if the service doesn’t find you a job or any job leads. A legitimate company will give you answers, if they’re reluctant or give you confusing answers, consider another company.
- Do your research. Check with consumer protection agencies to see if there have been complaints about the company – including the OAG’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau. However, remember even if there are no complaints, it doesn’t mean a company is legitimate. If the job placement service mentions a company or organization in an advertisement, call the company or organization to verify its hiring.
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
USERRA is a federal law affecting employment, reemployment, employment benefits and retention in employment, when employees serve or have served in the uniformed services. It applies to all employers, public and private regardless of size, including federal, state and local governments. The law includes responsibilities and protections for both the employer and the employee in the case of an employee’s military service.
Because USERRA is a federal law, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General does not have jurisdiction in cases of noncompliance.
For more information on USERRA or to download a factsheet, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website
Pennsylvania has 65 CareerLink offices across the state to aid all residents in their job searches. Pursuant to federal law and funded through federal grants, many offices have designated staff to provide specialized assistance for veterans. Staff can help veterans match their job skills with employer job openings, refer the veteran to training or community veteran services agencies, and contact an employer on the veteran’s behalf.
To find a CareerLink office near you or for assistance through the state Department of Labor and Industry, visit L & I’s Job Gateway.
Have a question about government jobs and Veterans Preference?
For federal jobs click here.
For the state Civil Service Commission click here.
County Veterans Service Offices:
Each county in Pennsylvania has a Veterans Service Office to serve veterans in that county. VSO staff can answer questions and assist veterans and their families in preparing applications for county, state and federal veteran’s benefits and programs.
To find you county VSO by clicking here.
Placing an Active Duty Alert on your Credit Report:
If you are deploying you may want to consider placing an active duty alert on your credit report. An active duty alert means businesses have to take extra steps before granting credit in your name. The alert lasts 1 year, and can be renewed to match the period of deployment.
For information on placing an active duty alert on your report, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
Veteran Crisis Line:
The Veterans Crisis Line is a 24/7 tool where veterans or their families can connect with free, confidential and professional support via phone, online chat or text message.