Holly Petraeus visits with JBER troops and families
Holly Petraeus, assistant director for Servicemember Affairs for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, walks with Air Force Col. Brian Duffy, 673d Air Base Wing and installation commander, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Aug. 22, 2012. Petraeus visited to talk about the newly created bureau’s mission to educate about and protect military service members and families from fraud. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)
Posted 8/23/2012 Updated 8/23/2012
by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs
8/23/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The U.S. military is overwhelmingly a young population. Often they are recently out of high school or college, in their first real job. And, flush with cash, service members can be an easy mark for scammers and unscrupulous businesspeople.
Holly Petraeus, assistant director for Servicemember Affairs in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, visited JBER Wednesday to speak to service members and their families about what the new federal agency can do to help protect them from deceptive practices and unfair loans.
The agency, created under the Dodd-Frank act, was intended to have a military office.
"We want to see military families get the education they need," Petraeus said.
At consumerfinance.gov, the bureau takes consumer complaints - including those concerning credit cards, mortgages, and other accounts. Petraeus' office monitors military complaints, and already they've had success in helping service members get assistance.
"We want to hear from military families who call Alaska home, about any difficulties they're having," Petraeus said.
Alaska offers some special problems - like the Permanent Fund Dividend.
"Any time you have a lump some of money, you have some decisions to make," she said. "There are people out there eager to help (service members) spend it."
There are various scams and other problems that can hit military families especially hard, Petraeus said.
Mortgages can be one of those; some people bought homes while the market was high. When they have to make a permanent change-of-station move, the homes don't sell - and the service member is left with an "upside-down" mortgage, in which the mortgage is more than the home is worth.
The G.I. Bill and tuition assistance money are also susceptible.
"There are many for-profit colleges that are eager for the benefits," Petraeus said. "We can help people make an informed decision."
And, of course, debt is always a problem - service members taking out loans and buying cars.
Petraeus cited her own experience as a military spouse, when she and her husband bought a Jensen-Healey sports car while stationed in Italy.
"I've been there, done that," she said. "We want to help people avoid the mistakes we made."
Payday loans, she said, have been around since the days of the Roman legionaries.
"The military population is attractive because they're young, they get a regular paycheck, they're not going to get laid off. And often, they're far from home."
The Internet has proven fertile ground for scams too, Petraeus said.
"It's the Wild West," she said. "Young people are comfortable on the Internet, they grew up with it... but that doesn't mean they know a scam."
She cited a case in which a service member took out a loan online through a front company; after a lot of work tracking it down, he discovered the lender was in Croatia.
Since all 50 states have different laws, education is a big part of her job, Petraeus said.
"We want to be proactive," she said. The Department of Defense and Pentagon have long taught basic financial management classes in basic military training and at service members' first duty assignments, but smartphone applications and online courses are being developed to teach new recruits financial sense before they even get to training.
Petraeus' husband, retired Army General David Petraeus, is now the director of the CIA. Holly Petraeus has continued serving families as she has for many years.
"I'm still working for military families," she said. "They deserve the best we can offer."