SAN DIEGO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today met with members of Naval Base San Diego (NBSD) to discuss scams and other issues affecting U.S. Navy sailors in the San Diego area. San Diego is home to the nation’s largest concentration of military personnel, creating a unique environment for financial products, scams, and predatory practices targeting the military. In honor of Military Consumer Month, today’s roundtable addressed a range of consumer-related challenges facing our service members. Following today’s discussion, and in an effort to promote consumer protection and financial readiness for military families, Attorney General Bonta today highlighted common scams and predatory practices that impact our nation’s heroes, and provided tips on how to avoid becoming the next target.
“Today, I had the pleasure of meeting with a diverse group of Navy personnel, program directors, and staff to discuss the many issues that our Navy sailors face in day-to-day life. I want our sailors and service members to know that just as you have our backs, the California Department of Justice has yours,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I had the chance to hear directly from the command financial counselors and fleet and family program staff that serve military families here in San Diego, and who are often the first to learn about issues affecting the Navy community. Today’s meeting continues the Department’s longstanding relationship with Navy Base San Diego, and the insights that our Navy partners shared with me and my team will help us do more to protect military families across the state from financial predators.”
“It is imperative that our Sailors and their families understand that there are a number of scams and predatory practices out there targeting them specifically due to their service to our nation,” said Naval Base San Diego Commanding Officer Capt. Ted Carlson. “The AG’s team worked closely with the Navy to end a major tax scam that defrauded thousands of Sailors of millions of dollars, and my team and I are excited to have this opportunity to partner with AG Bonta and his team and discuss how to better protect our military families.”
Common Scams and Predatory Practices Targeting Navy Sailors and Other Service Members
Affinity Scams: Affinity scams target members of identifiable groups, including the military. The perpetrators are – or pretend to be – members of the targeted group, and rely on sales pitches that rely on group trust and loyalty. In the military community, this includes exploiting the trust that service members have for their fellow service members, and for veterans who previously served. Don’t make a significant purchase, or an investment decision, based on the salesperson’s supposed military service, or the claim that a business is military-friendly or endorsed by the armed forces. Take a tactical pause, and shop around for the best deal.
Debt Collection and Illegal Threats: Debt collectors may try to illegally trick or scare service members into making payments on debts. Remember, debt collectors cannot do any of the following: revoke your security clearance; contact your command in order to collect a debt (unless they have your consent, given after the debt came due, to do so); discipline or demote you; or garnish your pay. If a debt collector is trying to collect a debt that you do not owe, or have already paid, dispute the debt in writing. Tell the debt collector why you do not owe the debt, include copies of any evidence you have, and mail this dispute to the debt collector using registered mail so that you have proof that the collector received it – and make sure to keep copies of everything for yourself. If you dispute the debt within 30 days of the first time the collector contacted you, the collector must stop collection until it shows you written proof of the debt.
Sweetheart Scams: Scammers post fake profiles on dating and social media websites to attract service members. Using these fake profiles, scammers will make advances to make you feel loved and appreciated. Sweetheart scammers will profess love quickly and ask for money – usually by wire transfer or prepaid debit card – so they can come visit, pay for a car repair, or even for a medical emergency. Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person, and be skeptical of those who profess love quickly. Take it slow, ask questions, and look out for inconsistent answers. You can also check the person’s profile photo using a search engine’s “search by image” feature to see if the same picture shows up online with a different name. That is a red flag. If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact right away and notify the dating or social media site.
Rental Housing Scams: These scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base. Scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties on websites, sometimes promising military discounts and other incentives in order to get service members to send them money for fees and deposits upfront, cheating victims of their money and leaving them with no place to live. This type of scam is especially prevalent during the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season. If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been seen, it is likely a rental scam. Avoid wiring money to reserve apartments, and use your installation housing office or established property management companies to locate potential housing.
Predatory Auto Sales and Financing: Car dealers located near military bases may try to lure service members with promises of special deals for military personnel. Often, these so-called deals conceal the terms of purchase for the vehicle and result in the service member drastically overpaying for both the vehicle and cost of financing. For example, dealers may insist that military personnel will not qualify for financing unless they purchase overpriced and unnecessary add-ons. Other times, the dealer may contact a service member who previously completed a transaction and drove a car off the lot to inform them that the initial financing fell through and insist on renegotiating for far worse terms. You should not rely on oral promises nor feel pressured to enter into any purchase without first reading and understanding the contract. If you are looking to purchase a car, you should explore all of your options for financing, including by contacting your bank or credit union before making a purchase.
You can find more information regarding the rights of service members, including a series of service member tip sheets, on our website at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/military. If you are a service member who believes that your rights have been violated, or think you have been the victim of a scam, you are encouraged to report it to our office at oag.ca.gov/report and seek assistance from your Judge Advocate General legal assistance office. Veterans and other members of the public who need legal assistance in their area can go to www.lawhelpca.org for information.
Today’s visit with NBSD is part of Attorney General Bonta’s efforts to continue the Department’s commitment to protecting the brave men and women of our military from injustice. Last month, Attorney General Bonta announced the sentencing of Paul Flanagan and Ranjit Kalsi for their role in a tax and insurance scheme that defrauded thousands of U.S. Navy Sailors in San Diego County through a company called Go Navy Tax Services. As an Assemblymember, Attorney General Bonta supported Assembly Bill 3212, a bill sponsored by the California Department of Justice that expanded the legal protections available to service members during their military service.