April 5, 2012

Active duty alerts help protect military personnel from identity theft

Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

The last thing someone wants to worry about while on deployment is someone assuming their identity to commit financial fraud. Now, people don’t have to. Amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act allow those in the military to place an “active duty alert” in their credit report. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one of the agencies that enforces the FCRA, the alert requires creditors to verify an individual’s identity before granting credit in their name.

A credit report contains information on where a person lives, how they pay bills, and whether they’ve been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in a credit report to creditors, insurers, employers and other businesses that use it to evaluate applications for credit, and a host of other activities, including insurance, employment or renting a home.

A credit report can be a tool to help a person guard against “” or discover “” identity theft, which occurs when someone uses personal information “” such as a name, Social Security or credit card numbers “” to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use this information to open a new credit card account in a person’s name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on an individual’s credit report. Inaccurate or fraudulent information could affect a person’s ability to get credit, insurance or housing, now or in the future. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their names and credit records.

Those who are a member of the military and away from their usual duty station may place an “active duty alert” on their credit report to help minimize the risk of identity theft while deployed. When a business sees the alert on the credit report, it must verify a person’s identity before issuing them credit.

The business may try to contact people directly, but if on deployment, that may be impossible. As a result, the law allows those deployed to use a personal representative to place or remove an alert. Active duty alerts on a credit report are effective for one year, unless people request the alert be removed sooner. If deployment lasts longer, a person may place another alert on their report.

To place an “active duty” alert, or to have it removed, call one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. The company will require the requestor to provide appropriate proof of identity, which may include Social Security number, name, address and other personal information.

Contact only one of the three companies to place an alert “” the company is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of the credit report, as well. If contact information changes before the alert expires, remember to update it.

When someone places an active-duty alert, their name will be removed from the nationwide consumer reporting companies’ marketing lists for prescreened offers of credit and insurance for two years “” unless the requestor asks that their name be placed on the lists before then. Prescreened offers “” sometimes called “preapproved” offers “” are based on information in a credit report that indicates an individual meets certain criteria set by the offeror.

To learn more about identity theft and credit rights under the FCRA and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, visit ftc.gov/credit.

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and provides information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357). Watch a video, “How to File a Complaint,” at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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