It takes a pretty low individual to try to defraud our active duty and reserve servicemen and women, but military scams are on the rise. Whether it’s identity theft, phishing attempts, or any of the other dozens of ways that criminals have gone after our soldiers and their families, criminals target these individuals due to their high propensity for moving around every few years, the likelihood of long-term active duty deployment that keeps them away from home, and the increased chances that their job will prevent them from staying on top of their bills and their identity. Coupled with the fact that soldiers have a steady income and are not likely to “quit” their jobs without notice, members of the military are an ideal target for thieves.
The many ways that the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends preventing identity theft—things such as monitoring your credit reports routinely, not giving out your Social Security number, checking your bank and credit card statements carefully for discrepancies, and more—are often low priorities if not downright impossible for a deployed soldier. And thieves not only know that, they’ve come up with ways to take advantage of a shameful but golden opportunity.
Sadly, the aftermath of a scam or data breach—something which would be very inconvenient for an average citizen, but ultimately can be resolved—isn’t just a source of frustration or upset when you’re in the military. These incidents can have legal and criminal repercussions for a member of the military if they’re left unaddressed. Bad credit, bill collectors, defaulted mortgages or car loans, and other common financial consequences can quite easily land a soldier in front of a commanding officer or even a court martial board.
Fortunately, not only have organizations like the ITRC setup assistance lines for anyone affected by identity theft or scams, but several organizations have put measures and assistance in place specifically for the military.
The Department of Defense instituted the Military One office to provide support and legal assistance in the event of a scam or personal data breach. That office works in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission’s Scam Watch and the Treasury Department’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide support and help applicants file claims. The Better Business Bureau also has its own division called the Military Line to offer education and complaint resolution to our service members.
There are some steps that the military and their families can take to minimize their risk. Just like with everyday citizens, a lot of it has to do with staying on top of their statements and reports, and safeguarding their information. Typical behaviors like shredding documents before discarding them, keeping your Social Security card in a safe place and out of your wallet, and monitoring your credit are all important.
But did you know you can put an active duty freeze on your credit report that will block anyone from opening new accounts or lines of credit in your name? It’s a great step if you know you won’t be opening any new accounts while you’re deployed, but do remember that it can cause a delay if a spouse or other designee needs to establish a new account. This freeze can be undone at any time, but it does take some time to unlock your credit.
Also, if you’re relying on a centralized computer station on the base that will be shared with other users, remember to completely log out of any accounts that you checked online; if time and protocol allows, you can even restart the computer after you use it so that your information isn’t sitting there for the next individual to find.
Finally, remember that any offer that sounds too good to be true probably is. It can be tempting to take advantage of an offer that appears on the surface to provide peace of mind or financial stability for your family back home, but don’t fall for any offers that make huge promises, even if their communication and their site look like they’re working for our soldiers. Always check out an offer with the Better Business Bureau or other scam prevention sites before clicking.
To read more about resources specific to our military service members, click here.