Local News

Cooper: Scammers target military members

Posted February 23, 2009 1:55 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— Members of the armed services need to protect themselves from scams, especially during the recession, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Monday.

Con men often target military personnel, Cooper said during the keynote address of Military Saves Week, an annual event at Pope Air Force Base to help military families pay down their debts, develop an emergency savings plan and save for the future.

Troops are young and they have steady paychecks but they still struggle to make ends meet, he said. Scammers are especially active in a weak economy, when people are looking for creative ways to stretch a dollar, he said.

Popular ploys include telling the victims of a scam, known in slang as the marks, that they have won a sweepstakes and need to pay taxes on their winnings or sending bogus cashier's checks to enlist people as "mystery shoppers" in malls or restaurants, Cooper said.

"You don't have to be dumb to fall for a scam. A lot of very smart people do because scam artists are quick. They are slick, and they can make you believe that it's all true," he said.

Cooper praised the General Assembly for banning payday loans in 2006. The small, short-term loans are designed to provide people with cash until they get their pay checks, but they usually carry very high interest rates.

He said it's also illegal in North Carolina for companies to charge an up-front fee for promising to get a consumer out of debt.

"These scam artists come in and take their money up front, and they do very little, if anything, to help (consumers)," he said. "They may write a perfunctory letter to the lender to show they're doing something, but they're not doing anything."

Airman 1st Class Amber Morton, 25, said she is always on guard about financial issues since family members left her in debt a few years ago.

"When I learned of the debt I had, it took approximately three years to pay off what I didn't even accumulate for myself," Morton said. "I want to be able to purchase my own land and then build my own home on that land, and that is my financial goal."