AP : Gen. Petraeus’ wife fights against troop scams
KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press
Updated 06:53 p.m., Wednesday, August 24, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Army Staff Sgt. David Madeux, 26, thought he was getting a good deal on a laptop that he needed to stay in touch with family while deployed to Iraq. He didn’t have any cash, but the business he was working with offered him financing.
“They had easy financing and they did it right then and there and I walked out with a laptop in less than 30 minutes,” said the Fort Campbell, Ky., soldier. What he didn’t know was that he had agreed to pay $189 a month for three years for a laptop that broke three months later.
Scams like these that prey on young, inexperienced soldiers and their families are increasing, said Holly Petraeus, who is the wife of Gen. David Petraeus and has become a leading advocate for consumer protections for the military.
She returned Wednesday to Fort Campbell, where her husband commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the initial invasion of Iraq, to hear stories about predatory lenders and deceptive business practices that target soldiers like Madeux and their families.
Petraeus is the director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new agency created out of the financial system overhaul act signed into law a year ago.
“They are targeted because they have an absolutely guaranteed paycheck that comes in twice a month,” she said. “For a big installation like this one, that’s a whole lot of those paychecks. It makes a very big payroll and can be one of the biggest in the state.”
Outside the gates at Fort Campbell, like many military installations, businesses try to attract military customers with advertising and special deals, ranging from car and motorcycle lots, jewelry and pawn stores to housing. But because many military families move often, they don’t know which ones are reputable businesses, Petraeus said.
Madeux wasn’t the only soldier taken in by the deal on the laptops. Tennessee’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in 2005 against Britlee, Inc. — which was doing business as The Military Zone also known as Militaryzone.com, Laptoyz Computers and Electronics — and two finance companies for deceptive sales and collection practices against Fort Campbell soldiers.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway joined Petraeus to speak with soldiers and their families about how to alert authorities to businesses like these.
Cooper said in the computer case, the finance company kept sending bills even after a soldier had been killed in Iraq for a computer he had purchased. He said the state got about $325,000 from the companies to pay back over 100 customers and that was just the start of the restitution.
Conway said he is especially concerned about for-profit colleges targeting troops and veterans who have educational benefits under the GI Bill. His office is seeking a multi-million dollar judgment against Daymar College, an Owensboro-based career college, for allegations of violating Kentucky’s consumer protection laws.
Petraeus said while at Fort Campbell, she saw the devastating effects that financial debt and bad credit can have on a military family.
“The number one cause of military security clearances being revoked is financial problems,” she said.
Madeux said he uses his experience as a learning lesson and advises younger soldiers to seek help from the installation’s consumer affairs office.
“If they go to make a big purchase, I’ll go with them,” he said. “We will take the stuff to consumer affairs to make sure it’s a legitimate contract that they are not getting ripped off.”