The identity security and consumer protection industries celebrated an important event last week: Military Consumer Protection Day. This event was created with the goal of helping our servicemen and women know what to do in the event that they’re targeted by identity thieves and scammers.
One of its more important functions is to spread the word on how to take steps to prevent it. The military has long suffered from the dubious distinction of being a highly lucrative target for scammers, for a number of reasons:
- Their personal identifiable information (PII) is gathered and stored where it can be left vulnerable to “inside job” identity thieves.
- The transient nature of their jobs means they often relocate and therefore don’t look as suspicious if there are multiple addresses associated with their information.
- The possibility of long-term, far-flung deployment without steady access to phones and internet connections means a thief can establish multiple accounts or lines of credit in a soldier’s name and leave him unable to even know about it for long periods of time, let alone do anything about it.
- A significant portion of our military is made up of younger adults who make large household purchases for their first homes, apartments, or barracks, which means fewer red flags when a thief makes similar purchases in their names.
The purpose of events like the one held this week is to help members of the military and their families do their best to keep their PII out of a thief’s hands. The joint effort utilized the resources provided by the different states’ Attorneys Generals’ offices, multiple consumer protection agencies like the Better Business Bureau Military Line, government agencies like the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Defense, and many more. Even the Postal System, the Food and Drug Administration, and some veterans’ support agencies were involved in the event, since those entities all have a stake in preventing crimes involving identity theft and fraud.
Here are some of the most important tips that members of the military and their families can apply in order to prevent identity theft and other related crimes:
- Alerts and Freezes – All consumers can place alerts and freezes on their credit reports, but members of the military have an additional option. According to security expert Robert Siciliano, “The active duty alert, which is free, is done one year at a time after contacting one credit bureau. You can remove this at any time. The security freeze, once in place, is indefinite unless you decide to remove it. It requires contacting three credit bureaus and is free online to North Carolina residents.” These would be good steps to consider if there’s a chance you might be deployed and unable to check your credit reports readily.
- Monitoring Your Credit – Since soldiers are required to use their Social Security numbers for everything from pay to medical care to even eating in the mess hall in some places (and as Siciliano pointed out in the above article, some deployed soldiers even have it printed on their laundry bags!), it’s vital that you stay on top of your credit reports. Requesting your free credit report is a good habit to develop, and if you stagger it so that you receive one report from each of the three agencies every four months, you’ll get a more up-to-date picture of your credit and who might be trying to use it.
- Watch out for phishing scams – We already know that identity thieves have no morals. They’ll scam anyone, at any time. Don’t fall for their tactics. It could be an email or website that looks very military-friendly, they could make bold promises about serving our troops or offering peace of mind, it could even be a threatening email that plays off your fear that something will happen to your family while you’re far away and unable to help. Again, don’t fall for it! Check out any offer or threat you receive before clicking their link or responding to their message.
Should something have already happened to your PII and therefore your identity, don’t panic but do take swift action. Financial problems are often a disciplinary offense in the military, but you can establish a clear line of identity theft response quite easily. If you need help or other resources to clear your name after an identity thief has struck, check out the Military Consumer Protection Day website for a comprehensive list of offices that can help you.