USA — Official Urges Protection Against Identity Theft

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 — Defense Depart­ment 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 office said.

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 infor­ma­tion.”

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 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 mil­i­tary.

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 a 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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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