ALBANY - In 2013, members of the U.S. armed forces and their families filed over 65,000 consumer complaints of identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission. 862 of those complaints came from New York State. As we observe the second annual National Military Consumer Protection Day today, the New York State’s Division of Consumer Protection is advising armed forces personnel, and their families, to protect their personal information and guard against identity theft.
Service members and their families are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because their social security numbers and other personal data are often used for identification, giving thieves ample opportunities to steal their information. Until recently, social security numbers were included on military identification cards and dog tags.
Military personnel are also at risk for identity theft due to non-standard work schedules, lengthy absences from home, frequent relocations and duty assignments to remote locations. Documents containing personal information are susceptible to loss or theft if not kept in a safe place or shredded. If deployed, the fact that their personal information has been stolen may go undetected for months. Service members who rely on remote internet access to manage their finances while away from home are also at risk of identity theft.
The Division of Consumer Protection offers these tips:
- Keep your personal information in a secure place. Make sure your personal identifiable documentation is kept in a safe and trusted place.
- Protect your Social Security Number. Do not provide it to others unless it is a trusted source. Ask if you may provide another type of identification instead.
- Use an Active Duty Alert. If you are deployed and do not expect to seek new credit while you are gone, place an “active duty alert” on your credit report. An active duty alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. It lasts for a year, but can be renewed.
- Make Arrangements for mail delivery. Make sure you have your mail forwarded to your most recent address or make arrangements to have someone you trust pick up your mail.
- Secure your computer. Use security software and a firewall to protect your computer and keep them up to date. Avoid providing personal identifiable information when using remote internet access.
- Choose passwords carefully. Don’t choose an obvious password such as your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or your social or Military ID card numbers. Your passwords should be a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one account.
- Shred documents. Cross shred all documents containing your personal, financial, and medical information before you discard them.
- Monitor your financial accounts. Review your bank, credit card, and account statements regularly to check for suspicious activity.
- Check your credit report regularly for any inaccuracies. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. To order, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- If your identity is stolen take steps to mitigate the damages. Immediately file a police report with military law enforcement or the local police. Contact the credit reporting agencies to place fraud alert on your credit report. Request a free copy of your credit report and review it carefully for inaccuracies.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289