Identity theft was the number one complaint category for members of the military in 2014, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A number of factors make military personnel common targets for identity theft, including extended periods of absence due to deployment and personal information that is readily available and constantly shared between different departments. Furthermore, Social Security numbers were printed on the identification cards of military members, retirees and their dependents up until 2011.
Military personnel can protect against identity theft by taking steps outlined in the checklist below:
Renew military identification cards that contain Social Security numbers.
Though the practice of printing Social Security numbers on military identification cards is being phased out, military personnel and families who have not yet replaced their identification cards after 2011 may be at a greater risk of identity theft. The Department of Defense planned to replace identification cards as they expire, but military service members and dependents who notice that their cards still contain Social Security numbers should proactively start the renewal process in order to minimize the exposure of personal information that could lead to identity theft.
Set an “Active Duty Alert” on credit reports before deployment to prevent financial fraud.
As an extra layer of protection, military service members who deploy can place an active duty alert on their credit reports to ensure that businesses take additional steps before granting credit in the service member’s name. To set an active duty alert, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and have proof of identity on hand. That agency must inform the other two agencies of the alert. If a deployment lasts more than one year, the active duty alert needs to be renewed at the year mark. For additional precaution against financial fraud, an active duty alert will also result in the service member’s name being removed from lists for pre-approved offers.
Carefully review credit reports prior to deploying.
To avoid having to deal with identity theft issues from abroad, contact the three biggest credit reporting agencies and review credit reports carefully. Look out for inaccurate transactions, suspicious information and unauthorized activity. Budget enough time for resolving credit-related issues, and make sure that all errors have been resolved before leaving.
Store personal information in a secure place.
Destroy any paperwork that contains personal information like names, birth dates and addresses before throwing it in the trash. To avoid identity theft caused by stolen mail, opt-out of unnecessary mail and ensure that mail is being checked constantly during deployment. Leave important documents with a trusted individual to ensure that personal information is kept private and secure.
Consider giving a trusted individual a power of attorney while deployed.
Power of attorney will give the selected individual authority to act on your behalf in particular legal or economic matters for a certain period of time. Keep in mind that even the closest loved one or friend may become associated with fraudulent transactions, so it is important to consider candidates carefully.
Taking these steps can help protect military personnel and their families against identity theft and financial fraud.