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Consumer Watch: National office can handle financial complaints

Jul. 21, 2011 - 03:02PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 21, 2011 - 03:02PM  |  
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You now have even more reason to contact your legal assistance office on base if you have a complaint about an unlawful financial practice.

As in the past, the people there will try to resolve your complaint. But if they can't resolve it, they can now take it to a new national office that has the power to enforce laws and regulations specifically relating to service members.

The military legal community will have a single point of contact to share consumer complaints within the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's enforcement division starting July 21, when the agency officially gets its powers.

The bureau will work with the military attorneys to identify potential violations of federal consumer financial laws, and bureau officials have signed an agreement with the judge advocates general of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard to provide better enforcement for the military community.

The bureau has the authority to protect consumers regardless of whether they're dealing with a bank, credit union or other financial institution.

Within the CFPB, these issues will be tracked by the Office of Servicemember Affairs, headed by Holly Petraeus, wife of Army Gen. David Petraeus, senior commander in Afghanistan.

Such a coordinated response clearly has been lacking — for example, in the cases of unlawful foreclosures on homes of service members who were protected under the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act and predatory online lenders who target military personnel. The bureau doesn't have the power to enforce the SCRA — that still resides with the Justice Department — but its staff has been coordinating with Justice and Defense officials to determine how to best help service members with SCRA complaints. Reports also have surfaced of insurance sellers targeting military members with high-cost products they don't need.

The bureau is setting up a system for receiving consumer complaints within its office, but those in the military community should definitely contact their legal assistance offices first.

AAFES and SSNs

Social Security numbers may be vanishing from military ID cards, but the Army and Air Force Exchange Service still needs to get information for certain financial transactions — if you write a bad check and they need to find you, for example.

So AAFES cashiers are scanning the new IDs to capture new military ID numbers when a customer writes a check, puts something on layaway or returns a purchase.

For security reasons, the Defense Department is removing the nine-digit Social Security number from ID cards issued after June 1. The exchanges have updated their system to use the new ID numbers in place of Social Security numbers.

For customers whose Social Security numbers remain on their ID cards, it will be business as usual — cashiers will manually key in the number.

Navy Exchange Service Command officials "will continue to honor checks from authorized personnel as we work on a solution that is not tied to SSNs," spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie said.

Information was not available from Marine Corps Exchange officials.

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