In response to National Military Consumer Protection Day, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi highlighted protections that she helped to enact in order to protect active military status soldiers from financial harm. Because of their specific situations, military members are often particularly vulnerable to financial fraud and deceptive practices or may simply need help managing traditional financial troubles. Debt collectors, landlords and other legal professionals who regularly deal with military members should remember to regularly check military status in order to know their rights and responsibilities in such situations, or they may face stiff fines and penalties.
In 2013, Attorney General Bondi and other legislators worked to enhance Florida’s consumer protection laws for military servicemembers who fall victim to deceptive financial practices. This resulted in the state passing the Military Protection Act, which provides that any person who uses such practices to defraud a military servicemember, the spouse of a servicemember or the dependent of a servicemember be held liable for a civil penalty of up to $15,000 for each violation.
According to The Destin Log, the bill also provides that restitution and/or reimbursement based on the violation against the servicemember take priority in collections over the imposition of civil penalties.
In 2012, Bondi reached a $2.5 million dollar multi-state settlement with an entity that was judged to have defrauded members of the U.S. military, the news source explained. This entity ran a series of websites that appeared to be endorsed by the U.S. government and military, but in reality were more interested in servicemembers’ GI Bill benefits. These websites targeted veterans and directed them toward for-profit “colleges” that operate in a predatory manner. Bondi also helped to settle a number of cases involving rent-to-own firms conducting business in and around military communities.
What this means for creditors
Amid the regulatory zeal for protecting servicemembers, both those with active duty status and veterans, it is important that creditors and others who have financial dealings with members of the armed forces be careful to always check military status. A military records search can be the difference between an acceptable delay under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and a stiff penalty and fine.