OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert reminding California military service members, veterans, and families about protections they have under California law. California is home to the largest population of active, reserve, and veteran service members in the nation. Unfortunately, many scammers target the military community: in 2022, military consumers nationwide reported over 93,000 fraud complaints, including 39,909 imposter scams that reportedly cost them over $164 million. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta highlights some of California’s protections for service members and the Department of Justice’s efforts to protect the military community from injustice.
“California’s service members and their families make many sacrifices to serve our nation, and it is our duty to advocate for them,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today’s alert highlights some of the available protections under the law and sends a clear message — we stand with California’s military families. I will continue to advocate for stronger legal and financial protections for the military community and at the California Department of Justice we will hold accountable those who seek to exploit our men and women in uniform.”
Know Your Rights:
As an active duty service member or veteran, you and your family have important consumer protections under California law.
If you are called to active duty, you may have housing protections:
- Security Deposits: Active duty service members can only be charged a security deposit of up to one month’s rent for an unfurnished rental and two months’ rent for a furnished rental.
- Evictions: If your landlord tries to evict you while you’re on active duty, you can ask the court to put the eviction on hold or provide other forms of relief.
- Ending a Lease: If you sign a lease and then get orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or for a deployment of at least 90 days, you may end your lease early by notifying your landlord in writing.
If you have a vehicle lease or loan:
- You can ask a court to defer payments on a vehicle loan or lease while you are on active duty.
- You can end a vehicle lease that you entered while in military service if you then get orders for a PCS location that is more than 100 miles away or for a deployment of at least 90 days.
Unethical debt collectors often try to illegally threaten service members into making payments. In California, it’s illegal for a creditor or other debt collector to:
- Contact your chain of command;
- Threaten to court martial you or take away your security clearance;
- Falsely claim to be a lawyer, a member of the armed forces, or a government official;
- Harass, annoy, or abuse you or others, including calling other people without your permission to tell them you owe a debt; or
- Keep calling you after you ask them not to.
The GI Bill and other military education programs offer you the chance to attend school and plan for your future. But for-profit schools sometimes target service members with false promises. Before signing up with any program, make sure to:
- Watch out for aggressive sales: Take a tactical pause. Slow down and take the time you need to make the right decision. Predatory schools often use high-pressure sales tactics to try to get you to sign up.
- Compare schools by looking at results for graduates: Take time and get as much information as you need about the programs you are thinking about. Always ask for information about the programs, such as graduation rates, job placement, and graduate salary information. Offers that seem too good to be true generally are.
- Compare costs before making a decision: Carefully compare costs when choosing a school and get enough information to see how much money you will end up having to pay on your own.
- Consider public and nonprofit options: Consider the California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California, as well as the outstanding nonprofit colleges and universities across the California. Most welcome veterans, and they may give you a far better return on your GI Bill and Tuition Assistance benefits.
While you are on active duty, you may be protected from creditors who want to terminate a contract or repossess an item because you cannot make timely payments. If a creditor seeks a court order for repossession or contract termination, the court may:
- Order the creditor to return your past payments before it can terminate the contract or repossess an item; or
- Delay court proceedings and not issue an order for as long as the court thinks is right (for example, until your active duty ends); or
- Issue a court order that is fair and that protects your interests, the interests of the creditor, and any other parties involved.
If you get sued, don’t ignore it! Under the federal and California law, you may ask a court to:
- Attend small claims cases remotely, or through a military member, for improperly withheld security deposits;
- Postpone a lawsuit filed against you;
- Re-open a default judgement entered against you while you were on active duty; or
- Grant other relief.
If you need to store your vehicle or belongings:
- Talk to your family support office: Ask about free or low-cost storage options example, some installations or armories allow long-term car or truck storage.
- Know your rights: While you are on active duty and for 120 days afterward, storage companies cannot sell your stored items without a court order.
- Read all documents before you sign them: Some storage companies try to get you to give up, or “waive,” your rights. You do not have to sign a contract that gives up your rights if you do not want to.
- Even if you signed a contract waiving your rights, you may still have rights under California law.
Under California law:
- Businesses and others cannot use a Common Access Card (CAC) reader or require you to log in to MyPay or any other military computer system for any transactions.
- Businesses and others cannot condition military or veteran discounts on you giving up (or “waiving”) your rights. Certain waivers may be void.
For help with these and other legal issues, get help from a military legal assistance office. To find the nearest military legal assistance office, ask your unit or use the U.S. Armed Forces Legal Services Locator.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to safeguarding the rights of service members, veterans, and their families. Here are some recent actions taken to protect California’s military community:
- In March 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced his sponsorship of Senate Bill 1311, extending additional legal and financial protections for active duty and reserve component service members and their families.
- In October 2022, Attorney General Bonta led a multistate coalition in filing a comment letter supporting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ interim final rule that removes exclusions on abortion counseling and establishes broader access to abortion care for veterans and their beneficiaries.
- In July 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced a more than $15 million settlement with Harris Jewelers for violations of state and federal consumer protection laws, resolving allegations that Harris Jewelers targeted military service members with dishonest sales and financing tactics at now-shuttered stores located near military bases across the country.
- In March 2022, Attorney General Bonta obtained a judgment against Ashford University and its parent company Zovio for defrauding and misleading California students by giving them false or misleading information about career outcomes, cost and financial aid, pace of degree programs, and transfer credits, in order to persuade them to enroll at Ashford.
- In June 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced the sentencing of Paul Flanagan and Ranjit Kalsi for their role in a tax and insurance scheme that defrauded thousands of U.S. Navy Sailors in San Diego County through a company called Go Navy Tax Services.
If you believe your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Justice at oag.ca.gov/report. If you are a service member, you can also reach out to your local JAG legal assistance office for advice and assistance. For additional information on military consumer protection, visit our website here.