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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Scams claim victims here, Legal help available for residents ensnared in deceitful web

By GySgt. Bob Hall | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | July 28, 2000

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Scam -- an illegal operation. Sham -- having the appearance of being
what it is not. Scheme -- a carefully constructed arrangement or a
secret, dishonest or malicious plot or plan.

No matter what it's called, the aftermath is pretty much the same: the
loss of money -- your money.

Scams, shams and schemes can be perpetrated by a business, a group
of businesses or individuals, or a single person with one sole purpose in
mind -- making money.

Granted, all businesses desire to make money, but most do it legitimately
and have their customers' interest in mind.

Unfortunately, there's an ever-increasing number of unscrupulous
businesses and people who, through high pressure sales, some fast
talking and false promises, take whatever they can, no matter who it
hurts in the long run.

Schemes or scams can range from talent/modeling offers, life insurance
investment plans and film developing to a wide variety of products and
services.

Many Marines, sailors and their families have become prey to these
bogus businesses and bilked for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Recently, reports of one company offering costly educational material --
material available on base at no cost -- swept across the base. The
campaign entrapped several young Marines in contracts totaling more
than $3,000. In fact, Capt. Derek Diaz, Joint Legal Office's deputy
director, has seen at least 15 cases in the past six months, he said.

The salesperson attempts to sell the young service member or couple a
29-volume study guide for the College Level Examination Program
(CLEP) tests. But that's not all; the salesperson also claims once you
pass these tests, enough credits will have been accumulated for a
college degree.

That's false.

There's more.

To top it all off, the salesperson claims service members can use their
G.I. Bill to recoup the cost of educational materials.

False again.

Diaz said he has spoken with representatives from the Veteran's
Administration and the Joint Education Office, and scanned through
several pamphlets referencing the G.I. Bill and how its benefits can be
used. "I couldn't find any way a Marine could use his benefits to pay for
the materials," he added.

Gunnery Sgt. Roderick Cole of the Marine Corps Tactical System
Support Activity said, "three of my Marines were duped by this
company."

Cole, who checked into his unit only a few months ago, surveyed his
Marines who were pursuing off-duty education. "One of my Marines
came forward to explain this program she had signed up for," he added.
"It just didn't sound right." Two others had similar stories, he added.

After some research and a little work, Cole, assisted by the Joint Legal
Assistance Office here, got his Marines out of the contracts, but not
without some cost.

"Legal sent letters to the creditors saying the Marines were not going to
pay the balance of the loan, because of the 'shady practices' of this
business," Cole said.

However, Cole added, more than likely, this will blemish their credit
reports -- a stain that could remain for seven years.

Come to find out, many of the services and materials offered by the
company are available through the Joint Education Center.

Linda Hoffman, an education center test administrator, said: "We have
study guides for the CLEP exam right here. They can be used freely by
any active-duty service member or their family."

The CLEP exam is offered through the Joint Education Center as well,
Hoffman added. Active-duty members can take the CLEP free of
charge. The exam is also available to active-duty family members for as
low as $44.

Even the base library has started stocking up on CLEP and other study
guides, according to Hoffman.

According to the Better Business Bureau, schemes and scams take
infinite forms. But the BBB's Web site lists common danger signals.

Be alert for:
- a deal that sounds much better than any being advertised by firms you
know to be legitimate.
- a  promoter who is not based locally, provides no telephone number and
uses a PO box or mail drop rather than a full address.
- a promoter name and/or logo closely mimicking that of a respected
brand or business.
- pressure words such as "urgent" or "final deadline" sprinkled through
the sales pitch or literature.
- immediate requests or demand for a check, money order or cash.
- vague answers or none at all to key questions you ask about the offer.
- insistence on finalizing a deal orally or providing personal financial
information.

Usually, when you buy an item at a store and later change your mind,
you may not be able to return that item. But, if you buy an item in your
home or at a location that is not the seller's permanent place of business,
you may have the option.

The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) Cooling-Off Rule gives you
three days to cancel purchases of $25 or more. Under the Cooling-Off
Rule, your right to cancel for a full refund extends until midnight of the
third business day after the sale.

The Cooling-Off Rule applies to sales at the buyer's home, workplace or
dormitory, and even at facilities rented by the seller on a temporary or
short-term basis, such as hotel or motel rooms, convention centers,
fairgrounds and restaurants. The Cooling-Off Rule applies even when
you invite the salesperson to make a presentation in your home.

Under the Cooling-Off Rule, the salesperson must tell you about your
cancellation rights at the time of sale. The contract or receipt should be
dated, show the name and address of the seller and explain your right to
cancel. The contract or receipt must be in the same language used in the
sales presentation.

"The seller must provide you with written documentation to allow you to
cancel the contract," Diaz said. "They must also inform you verbally."

Both Cole and Diaz warn young Marines, sailors and their families about
dealing with door-to-door salesmen. "Don't buy anything from anyone
selling door-to-door without first seeing, in writing, that they have
permission to sell aboard the base," Diaz added.

Joe Fitts, the family housing director, backs up that statement. "It's illegal
for people to sell door-to-door without first getting permission." Fitts
urges housing residents to contact their local housing office if
unauthorized solicitors approach them on base.

For more information on scams, schemes or other "shady" businesses,
log on to the FTC Web site at www.ftc.gov or the BBB at
www.bbb.org.


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