NEW YORK (MainStreet) — ID theft against military members on deployment is an epidemic. Indeed, a study from the Federal Trade Commission found that military members are victims of ID theft at twice the normal rate. As sad as it is, servicemen and women clearly need to take extra steps to protect themselves from ID theft. Here's how you and your family can protect yourself when you're on deployment.
Longer Deployments Mean More Opportunity
Ellie Kay -- a military wife, mother of veterans and the author of Heroes at Home (Bethany House, 2012), a book offering help for military families -- notes that one reason the military is at risk is because deployments are lasting much longer than before. However, there's a special option available for military members on deployment. "They should put an active duty alert on their accounts," Kay says. What that means is that when a Social Security number is being used, there's an alert on it. Potential lenders will know that there's the possibility of ID theft, because the person in question is on active deployment. "It's not as easy to go into Lowe's and open an account on that number, because there's an alert," she says. To get new credit, the person will need to have the correct military ID. You can put the alert in with all three major credit bureaus, but one will generally notify the others.
Families Are Often the Perpetrators
Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University specializing in scams and fraud, says family members are often the ones scamming the military member who is deployed. Weisman notes that it's always important to protect your SSN from strangers, but quickly adds that "in many cases it's members of their own family that are doing it." He recommends that people go beyond just putting an active duty alert on their accounts and going for a full credit freeze. "I'm not convinced the active duty alerts are actually followed," he says. "There are plenty of examples when companies extend credit just because they missed the service alert." To get into your account after that, you're going to need a ten-digit PIN. While that might not be the easiest thing in the world to do, it's a lot easier than putting your credit right after your accounts have been compromised.
Check Your Accounts While Away
Another thing that isn't easy, but might be necessary, is regularly checking your accounts while on deployment, or having someone you trust do it for you. Weisman notes that one reason deployed military members are so susceptible to identity theft is because they're not checking their accounts regularly. "They're not keeping up on their bills, their credit cards, their medical accounts or their bank accounts," he says. Because they're not using their credit cards while on deployment, they think everything is O.K. However, you still need to check in to make sure everything is O.K.
Weisman further notes that it's important to be careful about how you're checking your accounts online when you're stationed abroad. "When people are deployed theyneed to be much more careful about the computers they're using," he says. "You don't know if that computer is encrypted. You have to be extra careful about the computer you're using, because the security standards just aren't the same outside of the United States."
Kay says that servicemen and women should do more than just check their active accounts when they're away. This is because, sometimes the ID thief will change the address on the account, so you won't even be getting your information. She advises people to monitor the credit report itself. "You can check all of your credit reports at once and see how vulnerable they might be," she says. "You can even get alerts set up so that if someone opens a new line of credit, you'l know. Having some kind of monitoring is essential for anyone who is being deployed for extended periods of time."
What to Do If You Become a Victim
If you do become a victim, Kay says that you can talk to a financial counselor on base. "AMFLAC counselors work with emotional issues and PTSD, but they also have trained financial counselors," she says. "They don't do both. Everyone has an area of expertise and in their case, it's financial."
--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet