WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
Service members and their families can be easy targets for scammers, and financial education is key to prevention, the deputy director of the Pentagon's office of family policy and children and youth.
In an interview with DOD News, Navy Cmdr. Peter Hoegel noted that July 16 is Military Consumer Protection Day.
Today's observance is part of the long-term Financial Readiness Campaign, in which DOD, the Federal Trade Commission and many other organizations highlight efforts to protect service members and their families.
"Military members are trustworthy and trusting members of society who work hard, have a regular income, and they want to be helpful and serve," Hoegel said. "Unfortunately, it makes them a target for unscrupulous people who are trying to get into their pockets." Other service member vulnerabilities include frequent relocation, separation from family and friends, and deployment stresses.
Identity theft is the number one crime affecting service members and their families, Hoegel said. "We want to make sure folks understand the scope of the problem and just how cunning some [scammers] are, trying to get their hands on personal and financial information," he added. "[Identity theft] can be a tremendous drain. You have to understand how scammers come at you and how to protect yourself."
Hoegel cited the following statistics from the Federal Trade Commission:
-- In the past 12 months, 43 percent of service members or their spouses experienced a financial shortfall; this number was 51 percent in the E-1 to E-4 ranks;
-- 21 percent of E-1s to E-4s have no emergency savings fund, and another nine percent have less than $100 in emergency savings;
-- 33 percent of service members describe their financial condition as difficult, and 20 percent say their condition is worse than it was 12 months ago;
-- A recent study shows financial education had positive results for service members' retirement savings and other financial issues; and
-- In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 73,000 complaints from military consumers. Identity theft topped the list with 22,00 complaints, and others concerned debt collection, imposter scams, bank, lender and credit bureau issues, information furnishers and report users, and auto-related complaints.
"The Military Consumer website contains resources to raise awareness and explain the details of scams and other things service members and families can fall prey to, and how to avoid them," Hoegel said, noting that financial scammers can harm military families stateside and overseas, particularly where language and cultural barriers exist.
Financial stability is a DOD priority, he added, and leaders believe that a service member's sound financial readiness is critical to mission readiness. The department's financial readiness resources are available to help service members and families plan budgets, spend accordingly, save for retirement and emergencies, and "get ahead of the curve to give people the tools and knowledge they need before they're scammed or taken advantage of," Hoegel said.
"We want to make sure they're thinking ahead and getting their financial affairs in order before scamming becomes an issue," he added.