Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery
Today, as we observe Military Consumer Protection Day, I want to highlight the resources available to help servicemembers and veterans protect themselves against fraud and make informed decisions about managing their money. Protecting the rights and interests of the brave men and women of our military is a priority for the Department of Justice. The Department endeavors to protect the health, safety, and economic security of servicemembers and veterans through criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions, including cases that help recoup money lost through fraud, loan defaults, and the abuse of federal funds. We work closely with the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies to identify and address the greatest threats to members of the military and veterans as consumers. And U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country have established strong working relationships with military installations in their districts, collaborating with JAG Corps officers and others.
Military Consumer Protection Day also gives us an opportunity to focus on the federal and state laws directed at safeguarding the rights of servicemembers and veterans. The Department has developed enforcement toolkits for U.S. Attorneys, State Attorneys General, and Judge Advocates detailing the specialized laws and resources available to respond to consumer fraud targeted at servicemembers, veterans and their families. One of those laws is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which eases financial burdens on servicemembers by providing relief from credit obligations and court proceedings while they are on active duty. It also postpones, suspends, terminates, or reduces the amount of certain civil obligations – including interest rates – for members of the armed forces.
We want to make sure servicemembers know about these protections – and know how to take advantage of them if they encounter illegal practices. The Department’s recent successes in enforcing the SCRA demonstrate the breadth and importance of the rights it creates. For example, the SCRA can protect servicemembers facing problems related to –
Student Loans: In United States v. Sallie Mae, Inc., 77,795 servicemembers will receive $60 million in compensation for having been charged excess interest on their student loans. The settlement has also led the Department of Education to streamline the process under which servicemembers can obtain the interest rate benefit for their government-owned and guaranteed student loans.
Auto Repossession: In United States v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., Santander is required to pay over $10 million to more than 1,100 SCRA-protected servicemembers whose motor vehicles were repossessed unlawfully between January 2008 and February 2015.
Storage Auctions: In United States v. Horoy, Inc. d/b/a/ Across Town Movers, the consent order requires the defendants to pay $169,900 in damages to ten servicemembers for unlawfully auctioning off their stored goods without obtaining court orders, as required by the SCRA.
Mortgage Foreclosures: In the first wave of SCRA payments to go out under the National Mortgage Settlement, from JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and GMAC Mortgage, 952 servicemembers are eligible to receive over $123 million for non-judicial foreclosures. The banks will repair any negative credit report entries related to the allegedly wrongful foreclosures and will not pursue any remaining amounts owed under the mortgages. This joint federal-state agreement includes expanded protections for servicemembers.
The Department’s recently created Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is further strengthening our comprehensive legal support and protection network for servicemembers, veterans and their families, through enforcement, education and access to justice. We’ll maintain an active website of resources, and perform outreach at military installations throughout the country – such as our participation in Military Consumer Protection Day activities at Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst in New Jersey today.
We encourage servicemembers and veterans to be proactive in rooting out consumer fraud as well. If you think your rights under the SCRA or other statutes have been violated, or if you think there is a fraud scheme targeting servicemembers in your area, please reach out to your commander or legal services on your base.
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative and Military Consumer Protection Day are two examples of ways the U.S. government helps our men and women in uniform give their full attention to their military and professional responsibilities without adverse consequences for themselves or their families. Enhancing support for consumer protections will allow servicemembers to focus on their work safeguarding the country and help veterans live securely in the country they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend.