Montana Department of Justice
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Proud saluting male army soldier on grungy american flag background

 

The men and women who bravely serve in our military forces protect our country and its citizens from threats across the globe.  Unfortunately, they can still become the victims of identity theft, scams, bad lending practices, and other criminal behaviors during the time they are deployed, when they are back on U.S. soil, and after they have retired from military service.  The Office of Consumer Protection at the Montana Department of Justice offers these tips to help protect our military personnel, veterans, and their families from falling prey to identity thieves and scam artists.

 

For Currently Active Military Personnel and Their Families:

While Deployed – Set up an ‘Active Duty Alert’ on your credit report if you’re deployed and don’t expect to open a new line of credit, such as a car loan, mortgage, or a new credit card.  The Active Duty Alert requires creditors to take additional steps to verify your identity before allowing new credit in your name.  Active Duty Alerts last for terms of one year, but can be renewed.  To set one up, call the fraud department of any of the three credit reporting agencies, or fill out the Active Duty Alert.  They are then responsible for contacting the other two credit reporting companies.

Experian — Website or call 888-397-3742

Equifax — Website or call 888-766-0008

Transunion — Website or call 888-909-8872

Be Wary of Military-Targeted Scams – Certain scams are meant to specifically target military personnel and veterans, so it’s important to be aware of some of the most commonly seen types of these ploys.

Online Housing Ads:  Offers of military discounts or too-good-to-be-true rates for military personnel are often posted by con artists looking to scam would-be renters out of their security deposits.

TIP:  Be wary of rental rates that:
— are significantly lower than average for the area, and/or
— request you to send money via a wire transfer service for a security deposit.  Consider utilizing the Department of Defense sponsored Automated Housing Referral Network (
http://www.ahrn.com/) to find a rental home.

Imposter Recruiters:  Con artists impersonating government contractor recruiters ask for sensitive identity information or documents (such as a passport, Social Security Card, etc.) on the guise of offering a job.  However, there is no job and they really just want to steal the would-be job applicant’s identity.

TIP:  Never hand over identification documents until you have met with a potential employer at the employer’s location during regular work hours. 

Veteran’s Affairs Impersonators:  Scammers pretend to be representatives of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs and request personal bank, credit card or identity information, giving them access to those accounts.

TIP:  Never give out personal account or identity information over the phone or internet to someone who contacted you first.  Instead, hang up and call the VA directly and ask if the VA has been trying to contact you.  Do this even if the email address or caller ID says Veteran’s Affairs.  Scammers can manipulate e-mail addresses and caller I.D. to make them look legitimate.

Dubious Military Charities:   Some charitable organizations claiming to raise money for military organizations or causes actually end up using the donations received to line the organizers’ pockets.

TIP:  Military One Source, a DOD-funded program, produced a podcast about avoiding fraudulent charities for military families here.  To see if a charity is reputable, see its rating at http://www.charitynavigator.org/ or at http://www.give.org/

For Veterans and Their Families:

Protect Your Pension – Veterans over the age of 65 may be eligible for supplemental pension benefits.  However, this can lead to shady practices by some “specialists” who try to persuade veterans to make investment decisions about their pensions without disclosing relevant information.  In some cases, these “specialists” try to convince the veteran to transfer their assets to trusts or other investments in order to appear needy and to qualify for the Enhanced Pension with Aid and Attendance benefits.  Doing so, however, could actually disqualify the veteran from certain pension benefits the veteran may already be receiving.  It may also make the veteran ineligible to receive Medicaid services.

TIP:  If you want to apply for enhanced pension benefits, you can access the appropriate forms through the Veterans Benefits Administration at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/#7 or 1-800-827-1000.  If you want help with the process, the VA does accredit some insurance agents and financial planners, so ask to see their VA accreditation.  Keep in mind these individuals may charge a fee for their services, but the VA application forms are free.  There should be no surcharges for accessing these VA forms, although the client may be charged for the professional’s time in accessing said forms. 

Before engaging in a business relationship with anyone in regard to managing your pension benefits, be sure to thoroughly scrutinize their professional credentials.  Each industry typically has its own standards and tools for verifying the qualifications of its members.  Here are three examples, along with relevant tools:

For insurance agents, check to make sure they are licensed through the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Securities & Insurance at https://sbs-mt.naic.org/Lion-Web/jsp/sbsreports/AgentLookup.jsp or 406-444-2040.

For financial advisors, there are two types to choose from, and they differ in how they are compensated.  Fee-Based advisors may earn commissions from the financial products their clients purchase, sometimes along with being paid a fee for their advice.  Fee-Only advisors do not earn any commissions from selling financial products to their clients, and instead are compensated through an hourly rate, retainer, or percentage of the investments they manage for a client.  U.S. News & World Report offers a free Advisor Finder tool online at http://money.usnews.com/financial-advisors.  Fee-Only advisors can be located through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at http://www.napfa.org/ or 847-483-5400.

For anyone who is licensed to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other securities, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a BrokerCheck tool that can give information about a broker’s experience, qualifications, regulatory actions, violations and/or complaints.  The BrokerCheck tool is available online at http://brokercheck.finra.org/

For lawyers, Consult the Montana Bar Association at http://www.montanabar.org/search/custom.asp?id=2249 or 406-442-7660 to see if the lawyer is licensed and authorized in this state.

G.I. Benefits – Make the most of your Tuition Assistance or G.I. Bill benefits by utilizing the Department of Education’s College Navigator to find out if a school is for or not-for-profit.  The College Navigator tool also shows information about each school’s accreditation, average loans taken out, and graduation and default rates.  This information can help you find the university that will help you reach your educational goals in a financially feasible manner.

Access Your Earned Benefits – Some scammers try to charge veterans for services they can get for free elsewhere, like getting copies of their military record, or applying to receive benefits.

TIP:  Contact the Veterans Benefits Administration if you have any questions about accessing your benefits at http://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/ or 1-800-827-1000.  It’s always free to apply for veterans benefits.  Don’t give any information out to people who claim they can help you access your benefits for a fee. 

REVIEW YOUR RIGHTS

The Servicemember Civil Relief Act is a federal law that provides certain judicial and administrative assistances for active duty personnel and their dependents.  The SCRA guarantees certain protections, such as capping interest rates on outstanding credit card debt, protecting against eviction and foreclosure, allowing for early termination of some leases, and granting stays of certain civil judicial proceedings among many other things.  PLEASE NOTE you must take special actions, such as giving your creditors written notice and a copy of your military orders calling you to active duty, in order to take advantage of the SCRA’s protections.

The Military Lending Act is a federal law that caps the Military Annual Percentage Rate at 36 percent for some types of consumer loans for active duty members of the armed forces and service members on active Guard or Reserve duty and their dependents.  The cap applies to lines of credit including certain payday loans, auto title loans, and tax refund anticipation loans and includes the costs of interest, fees, credit service charges, credit renewal charges, credit insurance premiums, and other fees for credit-related products sold in connection with the loan. The MLA also requires specific disclosures and prohibits creditors from requiring service members to submit to arbitration to resolve disputes.

Be wary of aggressive advertising from lenders who charge interest rates that are too high.  Even though Montana law has the rate on small-dollar consumer loans capped at 36 percent (the same rate as the MLA), there are still service members who find themselves in a financial bind and feel forced to take out online loans with rates many times higher, some even over 1,000 percent APR.  These extremely high interest rate loans may be easy to get, but may make your situation worse, not better.  OCP encourages you to talk to someone you trust before taking out one of these loans.

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Attorney General's Office & Legal Services Division

The Attorney General’s Office, headed by Attorney General Tim Fox, and the Legal Services Division function as the lawyers for the State of Montana. The attorneys in the Office have expertise in a wide range of legal topics and handle a broad range of legal cases involving the State of Montana and its people.

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Children’s Justice Bureau

The Children’s Justice Bureau is an agency-wide initiative at the Montana Department of Justice dedicated to IMPROVING how we respond to child victims, DEVELOPING state-of-the-art approaches by keeping up with the newest research and, most importantly, HELPING child victims recover and move on with their lives.

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Forensic Science Division & State Crime Lab

The mission of the Montana Forensic Science Division is to use operationally efficient and financially responsible practices as the laboratory provides accurate, objective, and timely forensic analyses to the criminal justice community in order to maximize value to the citizens of Montana.

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Missing Persons Clearinghouse

The Missing Children Act of 1985 established a Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse within the Department of Justice. In March 2008, the department implemented a searchable online database that, for the first time, is updated in real time and includes any photos provided by law enforcement.

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Office of Victim Services

The goal of the Office of Victim Services is to provide tools and information to help crime victims recover from their experience and provide them with a range of services available. The criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating for victims. To assist them as they go through the justice system, the Office of Victim Service is available to answer any questions they may have.

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Central Services Division

The Montana Department of Justice’s Central Services Division provides financial and human resources support for the department. We make sure that everything works for the people Working for Justice. If you’re interested in a rewarding career helping protect the rights and safety of all Montanans, we invite you to join our team of over 800 dedicated employees working across the state.

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Justice Information Technology Services Division

Our Justice Information Technology Services Division (JITSD) provides vital Information Technology (IT) infrastructure upon which Montanans and local and state law enforcement agencies rely for timely, accurate information. JITSD manages the IT systems, services, and interfaces to support nearly 800 DOJ employees, 325 statewide county motor vehicle system users, and over 3,000 Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) users across the state.

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Division of Criminal Investigation

The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) at the Montana Department of Justice is involved in many aspects of Montana law enforcement and is integral to the Department of Justice’s mission of promoting public safety.

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Montana Highway Patrol

Montana is rich in natural beauty and history. From Glacier Park in the west to Makoshika Park in the east, the men and women of the Montana Highway Patrol are working hard to make your travels safe and enjoyable. The Highway Patrol’s core values are “Service, Integrity and Respect.” These values are reflected in our commitment to public safety through diligent and fair enforcement of our traffic codes.

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Montana Law Enforcement Academy

The Montana Law Enforcement Academy is the premier law enforcement and public safety educational and training institution for state, county, city and tribal officers throughout the state. The Academy offers entry-level programs referred to as Basic Programs and advanced training through an array of Professional Development Programs.

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Public Safety Officer Standards & Training

The Council was formed in 2007 under 2-15-2029, MCA as an independent Quasi-judicial board. And as allowed by statute the Council adopted Administrative Rules in order to implement the provisions of Title 44, chapter 4, part 4, MCA. Per 44-4-403, MCA the Council is required to set employment and training standards for all Public Safety Officers as defined in 44-4-401, MCA and in addition the Council shall provide for the certification or recertification of public safety officers and for the suspension or revocation of certification of public safety officers.

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Motor Vehicle Division

The mission of the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) is to identify and promote efficient, cost-effective programs that benefit the interests, safety, and well-being of Montana citizens through licensing, registering, and regulating the motoring activities of the public. The MVD continuously strives for excellence in customer service. Streamlining the way we do business has allowed us to improve our efficiency and make our services more convenient for our customers.

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Natural Resource Damage Program

The Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) was created in 1990 to prepare the state’s lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) for injuries to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin (UCFRB). Decades of mining and mineral processing operations in and around Butte and Anaconda released substantial quantities of hazardous substances into the Upper Clark Fork River Basin between Butte and Milltown. These hazardous substances extensively degraded the area’s natural resources.

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Office of Consumer Protection

Enforce consumer laws designed to protect the consumer from unfair or deceptive business practices. Enforce statutes relating to telephone solicitation and telemarketing. Provide information to consumers about the Consumer Protection Act. Assist consumers by distributing consumer education materials including scam and consumer alerts. Investigate false, misleading, or deceptive trade practices.

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Gambling Control Division

Through the Gambling Control Division, the Department of Justice regulates all forms of gambling in Montana, except for the Montana Lottery and horse racing. The legislature has charged the division with maintaining a uniform regulatory climate that is fair and free of corrupt influences. The division is also responsible for collecting gambling revenue for state and local governments.

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Human Trafficking

The Montana Department of Justice has a continued commitment to victims of human trafficking. In partnership with federal authorities, our agency plays a key role in the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of crimes related to human trafficking in Montana. This form of modern day slavery does happen here in Big Sky Country.

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Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Program

Montana’s deadliest drugs aren’t made in secret labs and they don’t always come from dealers on the corner. They’re in our own medicine cabinets. Each year, prescription drug abuse contributes to the deaths of more than 300 Montanans — making prescription drug abuse 15 times more deadly than meth, heroin and cocaine combined. Our kids report the third-highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country and more than half of them say prescription drugs are easier to get than street drugs.

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Safe in Your Space

When it comes to embracing new technology, kids have rapidly outpaced their parents and teachers. By their early school years, many children are already more comfortable on the Internet than their parents. But just because children are smart enough to know how to navigate the Internet, doesn’t mean they have the experience to make good decisions about some of the possibilities they may face online.

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Montana Sexual or Violent Offender Registry

Created by the Montana Department of Justice in 1989, the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry is a valuable resource for Montanans to protect their families against sexual or violent offenders.

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Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program

Drinking and driving has been a chronic – and deadly — problem on Montana’s roadways for decades. In 2008, Montana was ranked as the deadliest state in the nation when it came to per capita DUI-related traffic fatalities.

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Work for Justice

Everyday at The Montana Department of Justice, our employees are dedicated to ensuring the well-being and rights of the people of our great state. We’re passionate about what we do because it’s more than a job or a career. It’s about who we are as people. If this sounds like you, your unique experiences, knowledge, and values may be just what the Montana Department of Justice is looking for and needs. In return we can offer a culture that promotes fairness and growth opportunities.

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