Identity Theft

Maxwell AFB, AL -- Last Week the American Forces Press Service released an article discussing the DoD push to protect servicemembers from identity theft: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=60968. Researchers and analysts estimate that between 11 and 15 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in the last year. Identity theft is a crime that can have a devastating impact on the victim. In one case a married couple spent $15,000 and more than four years to repair the damage to their credit and reputation.

What can you personally do to protect yourself from identity theft? First, be very cautious about releasing personal information-whether the requester is reaching out to you through e-mail, the telephone, or even in person. Second, remember to check your financial information regularly-obtain your free credit reports from the 3 credit reporting agencies but also scrutinize your credit card statements and bank accounts. Third, beware of the dumpster diver, and try to shred all personal information before you throw it out.

What is the DoD doing to protect you? The DoD joined with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a "Deter, Detect and Defend" campaign to get information out to consumers and to advocate for additional protection. One option that servicemembers should have is to put an active-duty alert on their credit accounts that prevent any increase in the credit line without specific authorization from the servicemember. The protection is specifically designed for those who deploy and don't need an increase in credit during that time. While creditors are often happy to increase credit for servicemembers, this can inadvertently expose the member to more risk of identity theft.

Finally, what should you do if you are the victim of identity theft? First, contact the FTC to report the incident, 1-877-ID THEFT (438-4338). Second, report the incident to the major credit reporting agencies, Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and Trans Union (1-800-680-7289). Third, notify your creditors and banking institutions. Also consider going to your local legal assistance office for help along the way. You can find the office nearest you by looking at the locator on the legal assistance website: https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil. You can find more information at the FTC's identity theft website for the military, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft//military/.