5 Ways Military Families Can Protect Their IdentitiesApril 2012
In recent years, our country’s military personnel have joined the ranks of those who are considered most vulnerable to identity theft.
Transferred from one location to another, deployed in distant parts of the world for extended assignments, servicemen and women can find that practical routines—such as monitoring bank accounts or credit card statements—fall by the wayside. It all creates a situation where identity crimes are likely to go unnoticed for long periods of time.
Savvy thieves know this and are waiting to take advantage. Their methods may be the same as with any target: spear phishing, Dumpster-diving for discarded bills or submitting a change-of-address form to redirect mail, among other schemes. But often the crime isn’t revealed until the servicemember comes home to a pile of debt or a ruined personal credit rating. The problems can spiral, eventually affecting security clearance and opportunities for promotion.
In some ways our troops are in a better position than they used to be. Just 16 months ago, the military was drawing criticism for its widespread use of Social Security Numbers as a personal identifier. Everything from logging onto computers to filling out health forms to checking out basketballs at the gym required the nine-number combination—opening the door even wider to the possibility that it could be lifted and misused by thieves.
The military has since taken some steps to mitigate this risk. SSNs on military identification cards, for example, are being replaced by unique, 10-digit Department of Defense identification numbers. Because new cards are being issued as old ones expire, officials forecast it will take four years from the program’s launch in June 2011 for all cards to be replaced. (The effort is part of a larger identity protection program that began in 2008, when the DOD started removing SSNs from family member identification cards.)
Still, many of the other risk factors remain. If you’re in the military, consider the following advice to better protect yourself from identity theft:
• Place an active-duty alert on your credit report. These alerts are useful for servicemembers who are deployed or are away from their usual duty stations and who don’t expect to seek new credit for a while. Active-duty alerts require businesses to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. They last for one year and may be cancelled before the end of the term or renewed for another period.
• Be careful about whom you trust. Some deployed troops grant a friend or family member power of attorney to help manage finances, but remember this also means allowing access to sensitive financial information. As much as possible, monitor your own accounts, inspect credit reports and review financial statements regularly to look for fraudulent charges.
• Keep personal information in a secure place, especially if you live in a barracks or with roommates.
• Don’t let mail pile up unattended. If you can’t collect it, use a mail stop or post office box or have someone you trust hold your mail while you’re away. Warning signs include bills that don’t arrive as expected, denials of credit for no apparent reason or calls or letters about purchases that were never made.
• Take immediate action. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, explain the situation to a commanding officer; file a police report with military law enforcement and the local police; and report the theft to the FTC.
Remember, if you suspect your identity has been stolen, call your insurer or bank, which might provide LifeStages™ Identity Management Services from Identity Theft 911. Or contact us directly. One of ourfraud specialists will guide you and provide practical support until your good name and credit are restored.