Earlier this month, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Governor Rick Scott, and other dignitaries attended a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for the signing of Florida’s Military Protection Act. The Act is designed to protect military members and their families from fraud by enhancing penalties for offenses against such members under the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

According to the Attorney General’s website, the bill provides that a person who willfully uses, or has willfully used, a method, act, or practice directed at a military service member, or the spouse or dependent child of a military service member, is liable for a civil penalty of up to $15,000 for each violation. Additionally, the bill provides that restitution or reimbursement based on a violation against a military service member, or the spouse or dependent child of a military service member has priority in collections over the imposition of civil penalties.

Last year, Attorney General Bondi reached a $2.5 million dollar multi-state settlement with an entity that ran deceptive websites that appeared to be endorsed by the U.S. government or military.  The websites targeted veterans in an attempt to profit from their GI Bill benefits by directing them to a host of for-profit “colleges” that were “perhaps more interested in getting their hands on the federal benefits than in educating our soldiers and their families.”  The Attorney General has also settled cases involving rent-to-own firms that conducted business in areas located near military communities. 

The Attorney General advises military members to protect themselves and their families from unfair and deceptive business practices by following these tips provided by the Federal Trade Commission:  1) Know who you’re dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number. With Internet phone services and other web-based technologies, it’s tough to tell where someone is calling from; 2) Know that wiring money is like sending cash. Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money; and 3) Read your monthly statements.  Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name.

Bill Martin is a former B-52 and B-1 pilot and senior attorney for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and a member of the Florida Bar Military Affairs Committee. He is currently a partner in the law firm of Keefe, Anchors & Gordon in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.