Editor's note: This article was written by Eseosa Imade, a NortonLifeLock intern.
Military personnel present a prime target for identity theft. Federal Trade Commission research shows that active-duty military personnel experience identity theft almost twice as much as civilians do.
It’s smart to know what characteristics of service members make them targets of identity thieves. Read on to find out more, including tips to help protect against military identity theft.
Why do ID thieves target military members?
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information such as your Social Security number, credit card details, date of birth, and driver's license number to impersonate you. An identity thief could potentially file taxes, make purchases, apply for credit, or even commit crimes in your name.
One reason military members and veterans could be vulnerable to identity theft? The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs relied on SSNs for decades to identify service members, with military IDs tied to Social Security numbers. The problem? If a scammer or hacker accesses records that include a military ID list, they could have thousands of names and Social Security numbers without the owner's consent.
The U.S government has implemented new rules to reduce the use of SSNs and change the old system, but there are still military personnel and veterans with family members who use that system.
Military personnel might be appealing targets for identity theft for other reasons, including these.
Serving in the U.S military comes with a regular government-backed paycheck. Scammers are aware of this steady income and look for ways to access personal information.
The young age of military personnel
Many young service members in their early 20s may know little about cybercrime and how to protect their finances or personal information. These characteristics can make them more appealing targets for identity thieves.
Military members and their families are often on the move, training, or relocating. It can be tough to keep watch of your finances and information during deployment. Also, military spouses often look for flexible and remote jobs, which can expose them to employment scams. An example: That email that says, “Earn $1,000 an hour in your free time!” is a scam.
Sharing computers with others
Some active service members may be at risk of identity theft because of the reliance on shared centralized computer stations. Leaving a browser window with your details and forgetting to log out could make your accounts vulnerable. Another risk: Not everyone visits safe sites so your computer could be compromised with malware that can put your information at risk.
Fancy military offers and deals
Various dishonest online websites, vendors, and merchants grab the attention of military personnel with mouth-watering deals, discounts, and offers to get them to disclose their personal information. Scammers might use that information to commit fraud or sell it to others.
Tips to help military personnel protect their identities
One of the best ways to help protect your identity is to be alert. It’s a good idea to monitor your financial accounts for any suspicious activities and review your credit reports for errors.
Here are some other tips you can adopt to help protect against identity theft.
Set up an active-duty alert
Setting up an “active-duty alert” before deployment will allow creditors to verify your identity before any transaction is made in your name. An active-duty alert is a fraud alert that ensures businesses, lenders, and creditors take an extra step to verify your identity before issuing a new or existing credit in your name.
Contact any of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to set up an active-duty alert. The credit bureau you contact will alert the other two. Alerts can be done at no cost and last for one year.
Check your bank accounts regularly
Check your bank account via mobile apps or online portals regularly to look for any suspicious activity. If you notice irregularities, immediately report them to your financial institution. It’s a good idea to be thorough when checking all your financial transactions.
Protect your personal documents
Avoid sharing your documents containing your personal and financial information with an untrusted company or person. Protect your SSN by not disclosing it unnecessarily without verifying whom you are communicating with and their intended use. Resist the urge to carry your SSN in your wallet, and protect your military ID from prying eyes.
Sign up for credit monitoring
You can sign up for credit monitoring through any of these three bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Credit monitoring is a tool that helps you identify any issues or errors caused by identity theft on your credit report. After signing up for credit monitoring, you will be informed of the various changes, such as new credit inquiries, new accounts opened, accounts closed, to your credit report.
Change your password and PINs regularly
Scams can happen through data breaches, so be alert by changing your password and PINs regularly. Avoid sharing your password and PIN with untrusted sources. Always turn on two-factor authentication for all your accounts.
Be mindful of fraudulent emails
If you receive emails that ask for your personal information, it is most likely a scam. Don’t fall for fraudulent links sent to your email. Always contact your financial institution if you are unsure about financial links sent to your email.
Secure your computer
Secure your computer by using strong passwords and frequently updating security and antivirus software. It is not always enough to close a browser window; it’s smart to also log out from your account when using a shared computer.
Beware of social media
The increase in social media use has also led to a rise in identity theft through social media. A thief can use the information gained from answering challenge questions on social media to access your accounts. Avoid sharing your personal details such as full name, mother’s maiden name, address, or account number on social media or while using public Wi-Fi networks.
Use encrypted websites
Before shopping or online banking on a website, ensure it is encrypted. Encrypted websites have an “s” at the end of “https” The “s” represents that the site is using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate, and the site is secure.
Discard personal information properly
When getting rid of mobile devices, computer devices, bank cards, bank statements, military records, or other documents that include your personal information, delete, shred, or destroy these documents or devices before throwing them into the trash can.
Here’s what to do if you become a victim of identity theft
If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, here are steps you can take.
Report it to one of the three major credit bureaus
When you discover you are a victim of identity fraud, immediately contact any of these three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742), and TransUnion (1-800-680-7289) — to report the incident.
Contact your financial institution
Inform your financial institution about the fraud and change your bank cards.
Report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Contact the FTC to report the fraud by visiting their website or calling 1-877-438-4338. File a complaint with the FTC and use the document generated from filing this complaint to file a police report. The document from FTC and a copy of the police report will constitute an identity theft report.
Request a copy of your credit reports
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request free copies of your credit reports from the three credit bureaus. Each of the reports contain all your information.
Inform your commanding officer
Make sure you tell your commanding officer about the fraud.
Change all your passwords
Reset all passwords using different a password for each account.
Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs
Call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-698-2411 and tell them about the fraud.
No one can prevent identity theft, but these are steps you can take to help protect against it.