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Commissary Agency Alerting Patrons on Fraud Scam

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 1996 – Defense Commissary Agency officials are alerting service members of a scam promoting free grocery programs at agency stores. The scam -- which targets young, enlisted married couples -- could cost those troops over $2,000.

The alert follows a report published May 3 in the Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., base newspaper. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations warns base personnel of a promotion that promises $99 of free commissary groceries and other discounts by calling a toll-free telephone number.

Respondents receive invitations to a free dinner where they would receive vouchers for $99 of free groceries from the base commissary. They also receive a certificate for $110 in manufacturers' coupons redeemable through a shopping club for $11.

The ultimate pitch is for a $1,900 lifetime shopping club membership, which must be financed through a separate loan company. The applications also come with a direct-deposit form to repay the loan electronically. Investigators said the company's loan firm is supposedly unrelated. Therefore, if the club fails, the service member must still pay the $1,900 in loan payments plus interest.

Commissary officials are warning store managers and customers, especially those in the Midwest, not to fall for this scam. Agency spokeswoman Flo Dunn said the agency does not offer free shopping programs nor sanction outside agencies to offer free groceries. "This telemarketing program is not authorized by the Defense Commissary Agency. We don't do business this way," she said.

Air Force investigators continue to work with the New Mexico Attorney General's office on this case. They also received help from the U.S. Postal Service, which saw a similar operation near Fort Riley, Kan. Postal investigators found soldiers who purchased lifetime memberships in a similar club, only to find those memberships worthless.

The commissary agency is asking service members and their families to report any incident of this kind to their local military law enforcement authorities.

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