Identity theft among military members occurs at a much higher rate than with their civilian counterparts. The reason for this elevated incident rate is partially due to the copious amounts of personnel documents generated and the frequency of deployments that take servicemembers’ focus away from personal business maintenance, such as monitoring their credit reports. There are three major ways to avoid identity theft: deterrence, detection and defense.
In order to deter identity theft, it is important to know where your sensitive information is kept. Thieves rummage through trash cans and check unsecured mailboxes for information that can link them to personal information. Therefore, it is important to check your mail regularly and shred sensitive documents before throwing them away. If you notice bank statements or other important documents missing, that could be a sign that your mail has been stolen. In addition, you should only give your social security number and other identifying information when legally required and through secured means. Also, it is best not to keep your SSN and passwords to accounts in your wallet or other easily obtainable locations.
Try to minimize the number of credit application submissions. Be a detective when it comes to Emails or other correspondence asking for personal information. Typically, thieves pose as bank employees or government officials to retrieve sensitive information. Use complex passwords for bank accounts and other online resources that contain your personal information – remember to change passwords routinely. This helps to avoid unauthorized access to your accounts.
In most cases, taking a proactive stance to prevent identity theft can be a highly effective defense; however, some incidents can occur that inadvertently lead to the unwanted release of information. Being vigilant and closely monitoring personal matters can help minimize most damage if a theft has occurred. It is a good idea to check your credit report at all three credit bureaus [TransUnion, Equifax and Experian], at least once a year. This can be done free of charge. If your budget allows, you can hire a commercial services that specialize in monitoring credit profiles and flagging suspicious activities.
According to Maj. Deric Prescott, active duty Staff Judge Advocate, a good idea for military members is to place a free “active duty alert” on their credit report while they are deployed. This prevents any new credit applications from being made.
If victimized by identity theft, members should immediately file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement officials. These agencies can provide specific remedies that limit liability if identity theft has occurred. Also, immediately contact your creditors to report the theft and start the process of undoing the damage caused by the thieves. Be sure to maintain documentation of all correspondence with credit agencies and financial institutions. Be diligent in reporting fraudulent charges or activity because the issues become more difficult to solve as time elapses. Stop by the March Legal office for more information regarding identity, handouts and attorney referrals. There are additional online resources are available at consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity.