Written By: Lisa Philios, AFC®
Let’s face it, identity theft is here to stay. Sony, Target and JP MorganChase Bank, to name a few, all had data compromised, as highlighted in Newsweek’s 2014 The Year in Cyber Attacks (www.newsweek.com/2014year-cyber-attacks-295876). Cyber attacks against large corporations validate one thing: thieves and hackers are not backing down. This is why individuals, as well as corporations, must take action to minimize the threat of possible identity theft.
The good news? Servicemembers can safeguard their identity with an Active Duty Alert. An Active Duty Alert is one of three types of alerts available to servicemembers while away from their usual duty station (this also applies to Reservists and National Guard on active duty deployment orders).
This alert essentially means, prior to granting credit in a servicemember’s name, businesses must take extra steps to confirm the servicemember’s identity (i.e., calling the servicemember directly or their authorized representative if the servicemember is unavailable or out of the country). In addition, the Active Duty Alert removes the servicemember’s name from pre-approved offers of credit or issuance for two years, unless otherwise declined.
Questions Regarding an Active Duty Alert?
How do I add an Active Duty Alert to my Credit Report? Servicemembers can
contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus by phone or online:
- Experian: 888-397-3742 or https:// www.experian.com/fraud/center. html
- Equifax: 888-766-0008 or https://www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_ Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289 or http:// www.transunion.com/personal-credit/ credit-disputes/fraud-alerts.page
Are there drawbacks to adding an Active Duty Alert to my Credit Report? While an Active Duty Alert is in place, accounts cannot be opened until the servicemember verifies his or her personal identity over the phone with the creditor. This can be problematic to the servicemember if credit is needed immediately.
Does an Active Duty Alert expire? Yes. There is a one year expiration from the time the alert is added and servicemembers must reapply for the following year.
How do I remove an Active Duty Alert? An Active Duty Alert is automatically deleted one year after it is added to the servicemember’s credit report. However, it can be removed upon request by contacting the credit reporting bureaus (servicemembers will have to fill out a form and mail in their supporting documentation):
- Experian: http://www.experian.com/ blogs/ask-experian/2012/07/18/ removing-active-duty-alert/
- Equifax: https://help.equifax.com/app/ answers/detail/a_id/157/noIntercept/1
- TransUnion: http://www.transunion. com/personal-credit/credit-disputes/ fraud-alerts.page
What other ways can servicemembers protect their identities? Changing behavior is the first place to start.
Credit Report Review
Servicemembers are encouraged to review their credit report at minimum once a year. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the three main credit reporting bureaus to provide individuals with a free copy of their credit report by visiting www.annualcreditreport. com. All information found on the credit report should be reviewed closely for accuracy. And, to maintain accuracy of one’s report throughout the year, it is suggested that servicemembers request a credit report alternating the three credit reporting bureaus every four months. If errors are found, information on how to dispute them can be found here: http:// www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151disputing-errors-credit-reports
An Active Duty Alert is one of three types of alerts available to servicemembers.
Safeguard ATM pin numbers. Avoid writing ATM pin numbers on the back of debit cards or on paper in your wallet/purse.
Shop online using secure web browsing. Online purchases should be done via a secure internet connection. Two ways to identify secure web browsing can be found in the webpage address box. During checkout, the webpage address box will show one of the two or both: “https” or a picture of a “closed lock.” More information can be found here at: http://www.bu.edu/ infosec/howtos/how-to-identify-and-protectyourself-from-an-unsafe-website/.
Protect your cellphone/tablet. Servicemembers should avoid saving passwords to their cell phones or tablets, especially for their banking apps. If you decide to store passwords on these devices, it is advised that you also use a security lock/code on these devices as well. The thing to keep in mind is: if a cell phone/ tablet is lost and lands in the wrong hands, vital information could be compromised if the proper locks are not in place.
Password Protection. Everyone would like to use a password that is easy to remember, however, if you think someone could guess your password (e.g. your birthday), it may not be the best one to use. Choose passwords that contain special characters/numbers/capital letters. Exercise caution when sharing passwords.
Thinking of setting up an Active Duty Alert? Don’t delay. Alerts are one way of protecting one’s identity. Changing behavior and being mindful of where and how you shop are all ways to reduce the risk of having personal information stolen.
More Information Is a Click Away
Want more information regarding identity theft? Here are a few resources:
- National Cyber Security Awareness Month for year-round resources: http:// www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-securityawareness-month-2014
- Repairing Identity Theft: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/repairingidentity-theft
- Signs of Identity Theft: http://www. consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0271-signsidentity-theft
- Active Duty Alert Information: http://www.saveandinvest.org/ProtectYourMoney/ IdentityTheft/P124309
Lisa Philios is an AFC® (Accredited Financial Counselor®) and Military Family Housing Specialist. She has worked with Military Saves and Operation Homefront. As a financial educator she is experienced in teaching both the FDIC’s Money Smart Adult Education Curriculum and Merrill Lynch’s Investing Pays Off Program. She is also a proud Marine Corps wife and mother of two amazing little boys.Her work can be found on the website www.growingyoursavings.com.