It’s a fact: military personnel have a higher risk for identity theft than most civilians. This risk is greater because military personnel often spend long amounts of time overseas, their Social Security numbers are used publicly in some situations and they tend to relocate frequently.
Fortunately, the military has started working to combat identity theft crimes. Until recently, all military ID cards, veteran ID cards and earning statements included full printed Social Security numbers. These documents were an easy target for thieves and there were numerous cases of fraud resulting from their theft. Now, the first five digits of Social Security numbers are masked most military documents and there have also been new protections for the privacy of online information on government websites.
Although these new security measures have helped to reduce identity theft, military personnel still remain particularly vulnerable to these crimes. Here are some precautions that military personnel should take to guard against identity theft:
Active duty alerts – Military personnel deployed for active duty now have the added security of being able to place a special fraud alert on their credit reports. Simply contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to request that an active duty alert be placed on all three credit reports for one year. This alert notifies creditors that you are on active duty and that they should contact you before opening new accounts. Here is a sample of how this message appears on credit reports:
I am currently on active military duty. Do not extend credit without first verifying the identity of the applicant. I can be reached at (555) 342-827. This alert will be maintained on file for 1 year beginning 8-10-06.
Credit monitoring – Automatic credit monitoring programs are an excellent tool for civilians and a must-have for military personnel. It can be very difficult to keep track of finances in the military, especially for personnel who are stationed overseas or on active duty. With credit monitoring programs, you are emailed instant alerts whenever something changes on your credit reports.
Power of attorney – When you are deployed overseas, it is a good idea to grant someone back at home power of attorney over your accounts through your JAG office. Usually a spouse or relative, this person has the authority to manage your finances while you are away. However, it is possible that this person could abuse their authority and start using the accounts illegally. In fact, it is sadly common for relatives and family members to be involved in identity theft crimes. Military personnel should be very careful about choosing someone that they trust to manage their finances.
Social Security masking – Military personnel should keep an eye out for documents that contain their full Social Security number. Although the military has reduced this once common practice, Social Security numbers may still appear on some public documents. When possible, ask that this number is masked for security.