WASHINGTON, D.C. – Officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Department of Defense, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were joined by the New York Attorney General today to announce the development of a database to combat consumer financial frauds directed at military members, veterans, and their families. The Repeat Offenders Against Military (ROAM) Database will track completed enforcement actions against companies and individuals who repeatedly scam military personnel.
“As a former Ohio Attorney General, I know how frustrating it is to expose a scam and then see it take root in another state. The ROAM database will help law enforcement crack down on frauds that cross state lines,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray today at a press conference. “ROAM is a huge step forward in our mission to improve consumer protection for the military community.”
Law enforcement officials across the country, including state Attorneys General, United States Attorneys, and Judge Advocates (JAGs) from all five branches of the armed forces, will be able to search the ROAM database for publicly available information about completed civil and criminal legal actions against perpetrators of financial scams against military personnel, veterans, and their families.
“During my visits to military communities across the country, I continue to hear stories of servicemembers and veterans being defrauded by businesses that see our troops as easy targets for a quick profit. This database will help law enforcers stop some of the worst offenders – those that have made a practice of targeting our men and women in uniform and our veterans,” said Holly Petraeus, the CFPB’s Assistant Director for the Office of Servicemember Affairs.
In August 2011, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman secured a $3.5 million settlement against Rome Finance Co., Inc., an unlicensed lender. Rome operated storefronts, including “SmartBuy” in New York, that targeted servicemembers for sales and financing of high-priced electronics. The servicemembers were locked into Rome’s high interest revolving credit contracts, which resulted in the troops paying undisclosed fees and incurring massive debt. Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation revealed that this network was targeting servicemembers not only in New York, but also in California, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and even overseas.
Rome Finance and Britlee Inc. also targeted servicemembers near Fort Campbell, and they were the subjects of a $10.8 million judgment won by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper in 2009. Tennessee and New York were able to share information regarding their cases, exemplifying the benefits of interstate cooperation in cases of this nature.
“The ROAM Database will allow us to act much more quickly to stop fraud against members of the military,” explained New York Attorney General Schneiderman. “Had the ROAM database existed during our investigation of SmartBuy, we likely could have shut them down more quickly and saved countless servicemembers thousands of dollars each. This database will be an important tool in our ongoing, comprehensive effort to crack down on those unscrupulous individuals who prey on the men and women who serve our country.”
Other Attorneys General are also embracing the ROAM Database. Earlier today, Attorneys General Jack Conway (KY) and Derek Schmidt (KS), co-chairmen of the Consumer Protection Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, sent a letter to all of their fellow Attorneys General calling on them to contribute information to the ROAM Database.
The ROAM database will complement the Consumer Sentinel Network, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created to gather a different type of information–consumer complaints from all over the country. FTC Commissioner Julie Brill praised the creation of the new database, saying, “The FTC has long seen the value in sharing information to enhance consumer protection efforts. We see ROAM and Consumer Sentinel as complementary bookends: Consumer Sentinel at the beginning of the enforcement process, and the ROAM database at the end. I expect that the FTC will be eager to use the Bureau’s new data base and contribute information to make our consumer protection actions as effective as possible.”
According to Col. Paul Kantwill, Director of the Office of Legal Policy for the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, “Almost every day, servicemembers come to our Judge Advocate Attorneys for help and advice after finding themselves victims of a financial fraud. We are grateful for the work of CFPB and the New York Attorney General on behalf of military families and we strongly encourage JAGs to use and contribute to the ROAM database.”
Law enforcement officials can contribute data and request access to the database, which should be up and running by early February, by sending an email to ROAMDatabase@cfpb.gov.