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Consumer Bureau Protects Soldiers From Scams

DAVID GREENE, host:

Holly Petraeus has been out touring military bases all around the country. The wife of the four-star general and next CIA director, David Petraeus, is head of a new government office that aims to protect soldiers from financial abuses.

Blake Farmer of member station WPLN caught up with her on a recent stop.

BLAKE FARMER: I'm on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line outside Fort Campbell. Like many installations, just off post you'll find used car lots, payday lenders, and signs advertising special deals for soldiers.

Ms. HOLLY PETRAEUS (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau): For one thing, they are a target, and they're targeted because they do have an absolutely guaranteed paycheck.

FARMER: Holly Petraeus says the money comes every two weeks, and soldiers like Army Staff Sergeant David Madeux can even set up payments to come directly from that paycheck.

Staff Sergeant DAVID MADEUX (U.S. Army): It was like $189 a month-plus for three years.

FARMER: That's a total of $7,000 for a cheap laptop he used to talk to his family while deployed.

Sgt. MADEUX: I will like, oh, this will be easy, I'll pay it off before I get back, but I didn't realize how much it was I was paying.

FARMER: Aside from outright scams, a survey last year showed one in five service members recently secured a payday-type loan, and state attorneys general say for-profit colleges are pushing soldiers into programs harder than ever.

Holly Petraeus says it's affected the entire force.

Ms. PETRAEUS: The number one cause now of military security clearances being revoked is financial problems. And if you lose your security clearance, you then cannot do the job the military trained you to do.

FARMER: Petraeus has a goal to educate troops, but she says she's excited her agency also has authority to write rules that could shield service members from some money trouble.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer at Fort Campbell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer