When members of the military go off to serve their country, they leave family and friends and all that is familiar. When they return, especially if they were away on a long deployment, they are often expected to just take up where they left off.
But everything is different. Daily life seems more complicated, and there are many more choices to make than there were while on active duty. Members of the military face scams and frauds every day, like all consumers. However, there has been an increase in scams targeting military personnel. That may be because families are relocated often, and many young servicemembers are collecting their first regular paychecks when they return from deployment. Living on their own for the first time requires financial skills like budgeting, saving and understanding how to protect their credit!
By far, the most common scam facing servicemembers is identity theft.
Here are a few ways to help you protect yourself and your family.
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal and financial information through fraudulent means. This could be through a “skimmer” on a gas pump that collects your credit card information, a dishonest retailer who steals it through regular commercial transactions, someone selling you something online or over the phone who asks for your credit card number and social security number, from bills or other documents that you’ve thrown out, or providing personal information on online forms.
There are simple ways you can protect yourself from identity theft.
- Sign any credit or debit cards as soon as you get them.
- Clear browsing date, including cookies, after making online purchases.
- Don’t throw your ATM receipts where they can be retrieved.
- When someone asks for your Social Security number, always ask if you can provide alternative information.
- Regularly shred sensitive documents.
- Install anti-virus software and update regularly.
- Use complicated passwords, and don’t use the same one for everything.
- Turn off your mobile phone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use.
- Check your bank accounts and pay attention to your statements.
- Sign up for alerts from your bank or credit union.
- Use a credit card instead of a debit card when possible; it provides more protection.
If you are being deployed, put an “active duty alert” on your credit report. The alert requires creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. It lasts for one year, but can be renewed for the length of your deployment. If you contact the fraud department of one credit bureau for this, they are required to alert the other credit bureaus.
If you think your information has been compromised, notify your bank or credit union immediately and use all available services to restore your credit worthiness. Work with the financial institution and your credit card companies to remove false charges. Notify any other creditors to close or freeze accounts, so no one will be able to make additional charges.
Change log-ins, PIN’s and passwords for your bank account and credit cards, and place a fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus – they are required to notify the other two.
- com/fraudalert or 1.800.397.3742
- com/fraud or 1.800.680.7289
- com/creditreportassistance or 1.800.766.0008
While in touch with the credit bureau, request your free credit report.
Report any identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov, and based on the information you enter, they will create an identity theft report and link you to a recovery plan.
Finally, don’t forget to notify your commanding officer; you don’t want them to be caught off guard if a company tries to collect a debt that is not yours!
It is possible to recover from an identity theft, but if you are careful and cautious about your financial dealings, chances are you will not become a victim.
As always, get smart, and pass it on to family and friends!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.