Steps For Military Personnel to Take to Defend Against ID Theft
By DON Privacy Team - Published, April 12, 2011
Identity theft is a constant and evolving threat for all citizens and can be of particular concern for those on military deployment and their families. It is a serious crime that occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name. And, unfortunately, the rigors of military life often compound the problems that identity theft creates. So it is important that military personnel take time to protect themselves against this threat.
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a "change of address" form.
- "Old-Fashioned" Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers or bribe employees who have access.
This Privacy Tip provides steps to deter, detect and defend against becoming a victim of identity theft, using information from the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft
Deter identity thieves by taking the following steps to safeguard your information:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Ask to use another identifier and only give it out if absolutely necessary.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Safeguard your military ID. Keep it with you or locked up at all times.
- Never lend your credit cards or account information to anyone else.
- Never click links in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use security software to protect your computer; keep it up-to-date. If you use peer-to-peer file sharing, check the settings to ensure you are not sharing your sensitive private files with other users. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
- Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place, especially if you live in barracks or with roommates.
- Don't let mail pile up unattended if you can't collect it. Use a mail stop or P.O. Box, or have someone you trust hold your mail while you are away.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements. Inspect your credit report. Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill-paying history. The law requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to give you a free copy of your credit report every year if you ask for it. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com/
or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you are deployed away from your usual duty station and do not expect to seek new credit while you are away, consider placing an "active duty alert" on your credit report. An active duty alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. An active duty alert is effective for one year, unless you request its removal sooner. If your deployment lasts longer than one year, you may place another alert on your report.
To place an active duty alert on your credit report, or to have it removed, call the toll-free fraud telephone number of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
The company you call is required to contact the other two. The law allows you to use a personal representative to place or remove an alert.
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as:
- Charges on your financial statements that you did not make. Review your financial accounts and read your billing statements regularly. If you review financial accounts online from a public computer, be sure to log off financial websites before ending your session.
- Bills that do not arrive as expected;
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements;
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason; and
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
Defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect it by taking the following steps:
- Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. Call one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies (listed above) to place an initial 90-day fraud alert. A call to one company is sufficient. Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your consent. Then follow up in writing with copies of supporting documents, such as the ID Theft Affidavit located at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Finally, keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
- Explain the situation to your commanding officer so he or she is aware in the event creditors call to collect on charges made by the identity thief. You also may want a referral to a legal assistance office.
- File a police report with military law enforcement and the local police (if you are in the United States). Their reports will help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigations.
To learn more about ID theft and how to deter, detect and defend against it, visit ftc.gov/idtheft, or request copies of ID theft resources by writing to:
- Online: ftc.gov/idtheft
- By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, H-130
Washington, DC 20580