WASHINGTON (WWLP)– When military personnel are deployed they may not have regular access to mail, email, or ability to check their credit reports.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), every year thousands of service members report a variety of consumer issues. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database shows that active duty service members file reports about many forms of identity theft – and related problems with debt collection and credit reporting – at much higher rates than non-military consumers.
Keeping a close eye on credit reports, which can help someone spot early warning signs, can be difficult for active duty troops. They report that creditors often send notices to old addresses, which may delay their ability to act on warning signs, such as bills from unknown creditors or unexpected credit card charges. In fact, one-fifth of active duty service-members reports indicate that they have already experienced two or more types of identity theft.
Securing information can be a problem as well. Unfortunately, nearly 14% of their reports indicate that a family member or someone they know stole their identity, compared to just 7% of other adults who report. Reports suggest that this often happens when people have access to important documents or financial records left behind during military assignments.
But there are many pro-active steps that military personnel can take to prevent identity theft and credit card fraud. Military personnel have protections that can allow them to cancel housing contracts, vehicle leases, and some other accounts before they ship out, but reports show this doesn’t always go smoothly. Often, people learn of a problem only when they spot a ding (or worse) on their credit reports.
MilitaryConsumer.gov is a resource for servicemembers, veterans, and their families to avoid scams and manage money. Here are a few things you can do now to protect yourself:
- Check your bank account regularly. Report a lost or stolen debit card or unauthorized transactions immediately. Your bank may have a service to alert you to every transaction or transactions over a certain amount.
- To prevent someone from misusing your debit or credit cards, many banks will let you temporarily lock or freeze your card online or through their mobile app. You can quickly and easily unlock the card at any time the same way.
- Don’t give out authentication information – including PIN numbers or verification codes – to anyone who calls, emails, or texts you. If you didn’t initiate the contact, you can bet it’s a scam.
- Sign up for free credit monitoring, available to active duty servicemembers, to get notifications of activity on your credit reports.
- Put an active duty alert on your credit reports if you’re deploying. Alerts last a year (you can renew) and require creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name.
- Even if you’re not deploying, consider placing a fraud alert if you suspect identity theft. Consider a credit freeze if you want a bit more protection and if it fits your situation.
- Know your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Talk with a Personal Financial Manager or your military legal assistance office to learn more.
Go to IdentityTheft.gov to report and get a plan to recover from identity theft.