November 9, 2015

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Protect Our U.S. Military Personnel from Identity Theft

On Veteran’s Day, November 11, we honor the brave men and women who have served our country. Many people mark this occasion by thanking a veteran in person, but there may be an additional way to help members of the U.S. Armed Forces — educating them about the dangers of identity theft and helping them prevent it.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), members of the U.S. military are twice as likely to be victims of identity theft. Why are identity thieves targeting service members? There are two major reasons:

  • Easy access to Social Security numbers – Common sense tells you to protect your Social Security number with your life. However, for decades, the U.S. military used Social Security numbers as personal identifiers. Personnel readily shared those nine magic numbers all over the world as they filled out forms, checked in on base, and showed their military ID card. The military has become more aware of the problem in recent years and is working toward reducing or eliminating the use of Social Security numbers wherever possible. The government began removing Social Security numbers from ID cards in 2008, but numbers are not expected to be fully removed from cards’ bar codes, QR codes, and magnetic strips until 2022.
  • Long deployments – With some active service members on long deployments, identity thieves have plenty of time to do a lot of damage before anyone notices. When a member of the U.S. Armed Forces is deployed, they aren’t checking their bank and credit card accounts every day and it could be a very long time before a problem is discovered. One way deployed military personnel can help prevent identity theft is by placing an active duty alert on a credit report. The individual needs to contact a credit reporting company, like Experian or TransUnion, to request the alert. The company called has to contact the other credit reporting companies and the active duty alert will last for one year. The alert can be renewed if the service member will be gone for longer than a year.

On top of these two reasons for military identity theft, there was also a major security breach in Washington D.C. earlier this year at the Office of Personnel Management. Over 4 million federal employees may have had their personal records stolen — and that includes members of the U.S. military.

Identity thieves use stolen information in many different ways, but most use the personal information of military personnel for:

  • Government documents/benefits fraud: Tax or wage-related, government benefits applied for/received, other government documents issued/forged, or driver’s license issued/forged.
  • Credit card fraud: Creating new accounts and hacking existing accounts
  • Phone or utilities fraud: Creating new accounts for utilities, wireless Internet, or telephone. Making unauthorized charges to existing accounts.
  • Bank fraud: Electronic fund transfers, creating new accounts, hacking existing accounts.

All of this may be overwhelming for military personnel, but many veterans do not realize that they may be eligible for free credit monitoring through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They also have an identity protection program called “More Than a Number” that provides veterans and their beneficiaries with information about how to protect themselves.

It is so important to take care of the veterans in our life — and if there’s any way to protect them from identity theft, we need to do it. After you have thanked a veteran you know and love for their service, be sure to share this blog post with them and have an honest and frank discussion about identity theft protection.

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