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Whose pay is it anyway?
by Gabriel J. Myers
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

4/7/2006 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, ND -- With many elaborate scams such as phishing, payday loans, and identity theft designed to separate people from their hard earned money, protecting your finances can be a tremendous challenge.

If victimized by one of these scams, the results could potentially be catastrophic to an Airman’s financial health and take years to repair.

“Criminals are getting smarter; they are starting to use electronic media and are disguising themselves very well to look as legitimate as possible in order to gain access to information,” said Maj. Miles Mathieu, 5th Comptroller Squadron commander.

Phishing is a relatively new term that defines a method of extracting people’s personal information or a form of criminal activity using social engineering techniques, characterized by attempts to fraudulently acquire sensitive information.

An example of phishing is an e-mail appearing to be legitimate from a bank asking to verify account information or personal data.

“No legitimate financial organization or credit card company will ever ask for or solicit you for personal information,” said Major Mathieu.

Airman could also potentially be targeted by scammers posing as trusted institutions or Web sites such as Bank of America, Armed Forces Bank or even MyPay.

The best way to protect oneself from phishing is to safeguard personal information by deleting phishing e-mails and reporting it to a client service administrator or immediate supervisor.

Another financial pitfall officials say should be avoided are payday loans.
Many Airmen get themselves into a financial bind by needing money quickly because of an emergency, car trouble or family issues, so they acquire the needed cash through online or onsite payday loan companies, said J.R. Williamson, FSC community readiness consultant.

These companies, in some states, are considered legal but people should be aware of the dangers these businesses pose and what the potential cost of using their services could be.
The Center for Responsible Lending conservatively estimates that predatory payday lending fees (those extracted from borrowers caught in a debt trap of repeated transactions) costs families in the U.S. $3.4 billion annually.

People who use payday loan services can pay annual percentage rates as high as 700 percent of the original loan. Most payday loans are two-week loans that are paid back on a person’s payday. If the borrower fails to repay the loans then the penalties and fees skyrocket and can put the borrower in a seemingly endless cycle of debt.

In addition to the financial repercussions, Airman can also get into trouble with the Air Force that can potentially result in non-judicial punishment and could possibly even threaten an individual’s career.

For Airman there are very useful alternatives for quick cash that carry little or no interest rates.

Through 5th CPTS, Airman can get partial payments in certain emergency situations. Airman are also entitled to permanent change of station and temporary duty travel advances as well as pay advances up to three months for PCS-related expenses not specifically covered by other entitlements. In each of these cases, Airman must work with their supervisors, first sergeants and commanders so they can get the proper direction and assistance for their financial needs, said Major Mathieu.

Another resource available for financial assistance and counseling is the Family Support Center.

The FSC is the on-base agency for assistance through the Air Force Aid Society. The Air Force Aid Society is the official charity of the United States Air Force.

“The Air Force Aid Society offers interest free loans for emergency-type situations,” said Mr. Williamson.

The FSC can also help Airmen establish financial goals, plans and responsible budgets.
“It’s important for Airman to understand the Air Force is not out to hurt you, in fact the Air Force established Family Support programs to help you. We would much prefer that Airmen identify that they are having a financial problem so we can help them get through it, rather than their seeking out high interest loan agencies that will only make the problem worse,” said Mr. Williamson.

“The Air Force Aid Society won’t pay off bad checks or repay high interest loans for you, so seeking help before the situation is out of control is an important key to getting back on the right financial track. However, our counselors at Family Support are trained to help you with your financial issues even when they seem to be out of control. We do this in a variety of ways, like helping you negotiate with your creditors, by finding resources in your budget, or perhaps by referring you to a host of other agencies that may be able to help your situation. Our focus is on helping you find the means to help yourself,” said Mr. Williamson.
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