The cheap signs flanked by pristine American muscle cars (with blown out transmissions) beckon just-out-of-boot camp military personnel like sirens on the shores of the Island of Poor Financial Decision-Making.

A revolving door of seedy dealerships that spring up next to military installations invariably sing lofty praises of military service and tout an ability to lease the finest (lemon) vehicles without a down payment, soothing words that distract from a section of fine print that reads more like a death sentence than an auto contract.

The high-and-tight-sporting private standing at parade rest is the target. He soaks up the adulation that he confidently expects to be the product of being a squared away war fighter with four months in service.

“Check. Roger that, sir,” he responds to the car salesman’s request to step away and negotiate with his boss, answers reflecting the naive belief that people in the real world actually incorporate these terms into their vernacular.

Calamitous credit, a dearth of collateral, and a laughable monthly income be damned, he thinks, before receiving assurance from the newly inked “Death Before Dishonor” tattoo on his arm, a piece of art that was etched one block away from the auto dealer.

“It would dishonor me not to have this car,” he thinks, for it is a thing of beauty, and the only thing louder than that hemi are the wise, internally echoing words of Wayne Campbell.

“She will be mine. Oh yes. She will be mine.”

This tale of dreadfully disseminated funds never ends well.

It is also far from unique — nearly all junior enlisted have either witnessed or experienced it before, stories so common and rich in embarrassment they could put the subjects of the ESPN 30-for-30 “Broke” documentary to shame.

And while service members may never accrue the exorbitant student loan debt crippling much of America today, young men and women in uniform are still meandering their way to similar decades-long financial debilitation in the form of other ignominious contracts like the aforementioned.

But bad contracts aren’t the only undesirable financial entities plaguing the ranks; the number of blatant scams targeting military personnel has also increased.

A recent analysis of vehicle scams preying on service members signaled an even deeper layer of vehicular wallet-slaughter than the sneaky astronomical interest rates of yore.

“According to a recent Better Business Bureau study, service members are more susceptible to fraud than average consumers," a press release from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said.

Please take a few moments to retrieve your collapsed jaw from the floor.

Even worse than the traitorous snakes conniving their way to a meager living at used auto lots adjacent to military installations is a scamming group that labels itself, “Exchange Inc."

Unlike the lowlife auto lots trying to pass off “as is” — car salesman speak for “This car is trash” — vehicles, this waste-of-oxygen horde has been attempting, with some success, to defraud service members into purchasing used vehicles ... that don’t actually exist.

“For years, scammers have used the Exchange’s trademarked logo and name without permission to purportedly sell vehicles in the United States,” Steve Boyd, the Exchange’s loss prevention vice president, said in the release.

“Some military members have sent money thinking they’re dealing with the Exchange, only to receive nothing in return.”

A typical scam by Exchange, Inc. involves the sale of a vehicle as authentic as a football bat, transactions buyers are directed to make via third-party gift cards.

As with the scores of Nigerian prince millionaires offering money to your feeble relative in exchange for minor assistance, these payment instructions should set off red flags ab initio.

But because the scam has succeeded with a number of personnel, the obvious must be stated, as is weekend safety brief tradition: Exchange stores on military installations, the only brick and mortar locations in which actual military exchanges operate, are not authorized to sell vehicles. Additionally, the real Exchange never conducts private transactions or posts on resale websites.

If suspicious transaction activity is detected, the Exchange encourages customers to call the its customer service hotline at 800-527-2345, or file a complaint through its crime complaint center.

And by the ghost of Chesty Puller, if a salesperson is requesting payment via Outback Steakhouse gift cards, close your browser and walk away.

Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.

Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.

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