The Department of the Navy Privacy Team works diligently to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of Sailors, Marines and civilian personnel. However, personnel must take responsibility for their personal cybersecurity as well. The following actual case will demonstrate why this is so important.
In August 2018, a Navy petty officer stopped at a well-known fast food restaurant to get coffee on the way to a base in Virginia.
That’s where the nightmare began.
Two weeks later, someone in Dallas charged more than $1,500 to the same credit card he had used to buy coffee. Thankfully, his credit union refunded the money quickly and issued him a new card when he reported the breach. In addition, he took the advice of the credit union and changed his passwords on his credit union account and several others.
In November, a smaller amount of money was charged to another card using his name in a small town in Washington. Again, the bank refunded the money, issued a new card, and passwords were changed. Starting to get worried, this Navy family had their computers scrubbed on the advice of a coworker. These breaches were just too much!
Incredibly, in December, a fraudster spent several thousand dollars at a mall in Florida, paid with a debit card in the petty officer’s name! Then, in February, someone applied for a loan in his name in Tennessee. Luckily, the loan did not go through, but did appear on his credit report.
This story may seem unbelievable, but it is based on facts. There are many other examples of military members becoming victims of identity theft. Cases include scammers filing tax returns and claiming their victims’ tax refund; false arrests based on someone using their driver’s license information; and unathorized utility accounts opened in their name.
Unsurprisingly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that military families report identity theft at twice the rate of civilians.
Military Members Can Fight Back
Effective Oct. 31, 2019, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, made free electronic credit monitoring services, also known as identity protection services (IPS), available to active duty military and National Guard members.
Similar to services already offered to federal employees, as a result of the 2015 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach and other major breaches widely reported in the news, these services can aid in spotting and combating identity theft.
Sign Up Now!
Active duty military and National Guard members may sign up for free electronic credit monitoring at:
Once establishing an account, a mobile app, email, or text can alert you to changes in your credit file. Examples of changes that would trigger an alert include a change of address, name or phone number; opening new account, including collection accounts; late bill payments more than 30 days late; bankruptcy information; liens; changes to negative information in a member’s credit file; changes to credit account limits greater than $100; foreclosures; and inquiries or requests for a consumer report, other than for pre-screening or account review.
Credit agencies must make notification within 48 hours of a change. If a change is unexpected, an alert could be a possible indicator of identity theft. An early alert may enable you to take immediate action and avoid possible personal financial disaster.
When setting up an account you will be asked to certify you are currently an active duty military member or a member of the National Guard. Recertification is required every two years.
Other proactive ways for everyone to prevent identity theft are:
- Check your credit reports annually for unusual charges and activity.
- Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software on all your devices and update regularly.
- Shop online carefully.
- Don’t provide personal information online or over the phone unless you initiate the contact, and then do so cautiously.
- Keep your passwords private and change them regularly.
- Use social media cautiously.
- Be aware of the signs of phishing emails. Be vigilant.
- Keep your wallet or purse and military ID secure at all times.
- Destroy receipts, mailing labels, credit card offers, bank statements, military records, etc., containing personal information.
If you find inaccurate or fraudulent information on your credit report, read, “Disputing Errors on Credit Report,” at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports . This link also addresses ordering a free credit report and correcting errors on your credit report. If you find signs of identity theft, visit http://identitytheft.gov to start the recovery process.