By Heather Forsgren Weaver, American Forces Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Department of Defense (DoD) officials are urging
servicemembers to be aware of identity theft and are providing ways for
them to protect themselves, the director of DoD’s personal finance
Dave Julian noted that officials take the problem very seriously. “We
equate it to service readiness,” he said.
Servicemembers dealing with financial issues, he explained, are less
likely to be ready to fully perform their missions. Identity theft can
cause financial stress, he added.
Young servicemembers who have grown up in the digital world sometimes
take a casual approach to divulging information that can be useful to
identity thieves, Julian said.
“Our force is part of the digital generation. Our force lives online,”
he said. “We see that they are very forthcoming with their personal
Additionally, he said, members of the military get a steady paycheck,
and companies want to show their patriotism by extending credit to them.
But that makes it easier for thieves to use servicemembers’ stolen
identities and profit quickly.
To help servicemembers protect themselves against identity theft, DoD
has joined with the Federal Trade Commission on its “Deter, Detect and
Defend” campaign, Julian said. While the campaign is aimed at the
general public, a brochure has been developed especially for the
One of the key suggestions for deploying servicemembers is activating
“an active-duty alert,” which requires creditors to obtain specific
permission from a servicemember or an official representative before
extending credit. There is no charge for active-duty alerts, he noted,
and they last for one year and can be extended.
Active-duty alerts can be activated by calling the toll-free fraud
telephone number for one of the three nationwide consumer reporting
companies. That company is required to notify the other two companies
that a servicemember has activated an active-duty alert.
Another option servicemembers can use to protect themselves is putting a
“freeze” on their credit report to restrict access to it. Once a freeze
is in place, potential creditors and other third parties will not be
able to get access to a credit report unless the freeze is lifted.
Credit-freeze laws vary from state to state. In some states, only
identity-theft victims can freeze their credit. The cost of placing,
temporarily lifting or removing a credit freeze also varies. Many states
make credit freezes free for identity-theft victims, but depending upon
where they live, others may pay a fee of typically $10 to each of the
three credit-reporting agencies.
Since spouses left at home often handle deployed servicemembers’
finances, they should be aware of identity theft and how to protect
against it, Julian said, so identity theft usually is covered in
predeployment briefings that servicemembers and their spouses are
encouraged to attend. Single deployed servicemembers can be at a
disadvantage, Julian acknowledged, because they need to watch out for
identity theft themselves or have a trusted agent, such as a parent,
keep track of their accounts.
But whether single or married, he said, servicemembers who choose to
watch their finances while they are deployed need to remember that
common-use computers are dangerous things. It’s important, he explained,
to log off — completely back out — if they are monitoring their personal
information on a common-use computer or in an Internet café.
Servicemembers should request a copy of their credit report every year
from each credit-reporting agency, Julian said. Since there are three
credit-reporting agencies, he suggested requesting a different copy from
a separate agency every four months.
Identity theft affecting deployed servicemembers is an ongoing problem,
said Gary McAlum, senior vice president for enterprise security for
USAA, an insurance and financial services company. USAA has worked
quickly to lock down the accounts of known victims and of servicemembers
whose information had been stolen but whose accounts had yet to be
targeted, he said.
A recent case involved servicemembers victimized by a criminal ring that
collected personal information and then used that information to open
credit card accounts and drain savings accounts, McAlum said.
Identity thieves sometimes use “social engineering” to obtain
information, McAlum said, using an “authoritative-voice” tactic to get
someone to offer personal information over the telephone. The thief then
uses the same tactic with creditors to get credit. A thief who doesn’t
have all of the information required by the creditor, he added, often
will “sound dumb” to creditors to obtain the information.
Deploying servicemembers “are obviously not going to be as vigilant as
they deploy, get ready to deploy or are coming home from a deployment,
so it is important that they use online resources” to make sure
everything is in order, said Mike Kelly, USAA spokesman.
McAlum stressed that identity theft is a significant problem for the
nation. “The fact that it is exploiting our servicemembers just makes it
worse,” he added.