Commissioner Nikki Fried, Veterans Agencies Host Military Consumer Month Telephone Town Hall
Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) hosted a telephone town hall meeting for Military Consumer Month to discuss how servicemembers and veterans can protect themselves from scams, fraud, and abuse. Commissioner Fried was joined by Maj. Gen. James S. “Hammer” Hartsell (Ret.), Deputy Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs; Al Carter, Chief of Staff of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs; and Joe Marino, Executive Director of Veterans Florida. The town hall was moderated by Ed Rodriguez, Veterans Affairs Director for FDACS and a former U.S. Navy corpsman.
“July is Military Consumer Month, and we’re committed to protecting the fighting men and women who proudly serve our state and nation. Florida is home to over 65,000 active duty military personnel, over 202,000 military retirees, and over 1.5 million veterans. Unfortunately, these servicemembers, military families, and veterans are also a prime target for scammers,” said Commissioner Fried. “My message to anyone who would take advantage of Floridians, especially our military personnel and veterans, is simple: we will not tolerate it, we will find out, shut you down, and hold you accountable.”
“Commissioner Fried’s office serves as a vanguard for those falling victim to consumer fraud and related matters. Together, we have a strong system in place to help veterans avoid predatory consumer practices,” said Al Carter, Chief of Staff for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. “The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs looks forward to continuing to partner with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to combat those who seek to abuse Florida veterans.”
“Thank you, Commissioner Fried, for including Veterans Florida in this conversation. The impacts that these kinds of scams have on servicemembers and veterans, especially those with young families, have a huge effect during their time of transition when seeking a new career of starting a new business,” said Joe Marino, Executive Director of Veterans Florida. “These issues are magnified when transitioning military families move to different states, locations, or jobs, any kind of identity theft is going to hurt them. It is unfortunate that there are people out there targeting Florida veterans.”
Servicemembers and military families often have steady incomes, and frequent moves and deployments can make daily management of finances more difficult, which leads scammers to target this community. Upon taking office, Commissioner Fried vowed to ensure FDACS was prioritizing Florida’s veterans and servicemembers; Fried established a new Veterans Affairs Director position, and the Department’s Division of Consumer Services began categorizing consumer complaints received from veterans and servicemembers.
Since 2019, FDACS has received over 660 complaints from Florida servicemembers and veterans, and as time goes on this data will be helpful in identifying patterns about the specific types of scams that military members and veterans are encountering. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reported claims of over 36,000 military-related people who had fallen victim to imposter scams, with 11% of victims suffering a financial hit, with a median loss of $900 per victim.
Servicemembers and veterans are also prone to many of the same scams that Florida’s civilians are prone to. The following are scams that disproportionately affect servicemembers and veterans:
- Identity Theft: Identity theft occurs when an individual’s personal information such as their name, Social Security number, or credit card number are used without their consent to commit fraud and other crimes. Military servicemembers are especially at risk for identity theft because the frequent moves and deployments that are required of military life makes it more difficult to monitor their finances for the irregularities that identify theft causes.
- Rental Scams: These scams target servicemembers looking for housing near their home base. The scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties on websites. The ads often offer military discounts and other incentives. They attempt to get servicemembers to send them money upfront; scammers then take the money and the victims end up losing this income and are left without housing.
- Charity Scams: Charity scammers use deception to steal money from people who believe they are donating to legitimate causes. They siphon money away from those in need and use it to line their own pockets. Some scam artists set up military or veteran charities to exploit the generosity that our military and veterans communities, and the general public, have towards causes that help service members, veterans and military families.
- Unfair Car Deals: New service members are often first or second time car buyers that may not have a lot of experience in the car purchasing process. Knowing this, some sellers will target these new service members and set them up with payment agreements that include hidden fees and high interest rates. With the steady income that service members have, these car sellers are able to garnish their wages in order collect on the unfair car deals.
FDACS Consumer Action: In March of this year, FDACS conducted an investigation into the Children of Wounded Warriors charity, which claimed to be raising money for the children of injured or slain military servicemembers and first respodners. The investigation concluded that the organization engaged in the improper and personal use of funds, committed perjury, misled donors, and was involved in other illicit actions. The group’s charity status was revoked, and they were fined $60,000.
File a Consumer Complaint with FDACS: Servicemembers, veterans, and family members who think they have fallen victim to a scam or experienced a solicitation which they believe could be a scam should file a consumer complaint with the FDACS Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-FL-AYUDA en Español), or online at FloridaConsumerHelp.com and report concerns to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint.
Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Resources: Veterans seeking additional resources and help are advised to call the Florida Veterans Support Line at 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838) or visit FloridaVets.org/resources.
Background: The FDACS Division of Consumer Services is Florida’s state consumer protection agency, responsible for regulating charities, handling consumer complaints, and protecting against unfair and unsafe business practices. FDACS handles more than 400,000 consumer complaints and inquiries, oversees more than 500,000 regulated devices, entities, and products like gas pumps and grocery scales, performs over 61,000 lab analyses on products like gasoline and brake fluid, performs nearly 9,000 fair ride inspections, and returned over $2.8 million to consumers through mediations with businesses. The Division regulates businesses including motor vehicle repair shops, pawnbrokers, health studios, travel sellers, intrastate movers, professional surveyors and mappers, sweepstakes/game promotions, and telemarketers.