I.D. Theft and the Military: Six Steps to Protect Your Identity While Deployed

All Americans are at risk for identity theft. However, when military personnel are deployed for an extended period of time, they face heightened risks because they are unavailable to monitor for and respond to fraudulent credit activity.

Military personnel’s risk for identify theft is higher than the general public, because, historically, their social security numbers are used as personal identifiers. The Department of Defense has recognized this vulnerability and is taking steps to minimize the threat.

Identity theft doesn’t only affect those stationed abroad, but any member of our military who is deployed away from home, without access to mail and a credit report.

To help prevent identity theft while deployed, military personnel can follow these six steps:

  • Check Your Credit Profile: Before you leave for deployment, obtain a copy of your credit report from one (or all three) of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. This will enable you to assess your current credit and resolve any inconsistencies or errors before you leave.
  • Create an “Active Duty Alert”:    Contact all three of the major credit bureaus and place an “active duty alert” on your credit profile. This action will alert the credit bureaus that you will be away for an extended period of time and there should be minimal activity on your account. However, the alert is only valid for one year. If you are deployed longer, you, or your power of attorney, can contact the bureaus to have it extended as long as necessary.
  • Opt-Out of Marketing: Opt-out of marketing databases and lists to reduce the number of “pre-approved” credit card offers and other mail that may contain personal information to limit the opportunity for mail theft. To do this, there are two main organizations to contact. First, add your name to the National Do-Not-Call Registry at www.fcc.gov/cgb/donotcall. Second, remove your name from the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service at www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html. Third, opt out of pre-approved credit offers for the next five years by registering at www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 1-888-567-8688.
  • Cancel Convenience Checks: Notify each of your credit card companies individually that you will be leaving for deployment and request that convenience checks not be sent. In addition, see if your credit card companies will switch your accounts to electronic billing. This adjustment will limit sensitive mail and help prevent breaches of important account numbers.
  • Secure Your Documents: Be sure to properly protect tax records, birth certificates, social security cards, and other paperwork with sensitive information. The safest place for these documents while you are deployed are in a safety deposit box or a safe, with a relative or family friend outside of the home.
  • Entrust a Friend: If you live alone, ask a family member or friend to visit your home regularly and make sure that it is secure. In addition, ask them to check the mail, mow the lawn, walk the perimeter of the property, and stay in the home for a few hours. These practices will help deter burglars who are looking for an empty home or vacant property to raid for valuables and information.

If you do have a breach of sensitive information or suspect that someone has falsified your identity, report it right away. File a statement with the local authorities, contact each individual credit card company, and notify the three credit bureaus immediately. It is important to take action right away to prevent any further damage and begin rectifying the situation.

What Can Be Done?
It is a frightening reality that the personal information of nearly 30 million active and retired service members has been stolen by data thieves in recent years, but, the Department of Defense is taking steps to remove the full social security numbers of soldiers from their identification cards.

Just as the healthcare industry has eradicated use of social security numbers as personal identifiers, the military is looking to do the same. By the end of 2010, all Department of Defense issued identification cards will only feature the last four digits of holder’s social security number. This effort will greatly decrease the ease in which military members identities can be stolen. In the meantime, some military identification cards are being updated using data protection and authentication tools.

For the time being, it is prudent to follow the six steps outlined above and keep a close watch over your credit report while at home. You can take comfort in knowing that you’re taking all possible measures to protect yourself and safeguard your identity.