Since they’re away from home and don’t have time to comb through their bank and credit statements on a daily basis, military members and their families are at high risk for identity theft. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched a campaign called “More Than a Number” that hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of identity theft.
“We recognize that for Veterans, as for all Americans in the digital age, identity theft is a growing concern,” VA Chief Information Officer Steph Warren said in a statement. “Our goal is to help educate and protect those who have protected this great country.”
Of the identity theft complaints revolving around government documents or benefit fraud in 2014, the military accounted for 44.7 percent of these incidents, according to the Identity Theft Center. To prevent identity thieves from taking your information and destroying your credit in the process, be sure to take steps to protect your credit.
Here are seven tips for military members to guard their credit information:
1. Place a Fraud Alert
After identity thieves access sensitive personal information, they could open new lines of credit. To prevent this from happening, military members, like all consumers, should contact the three national credit reporting companies – TransUnion, Experian or Equifax – and place a fraud alert. This step makes it more difficult for thieves to be approved for new credit because a creditor must verify the identity of the applicant, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The alert lasts 90 days or more, and you can renew it after this initial period.
“An active duty alert lasts for one year.”
2. Request an Activity Duty Alert
If your deployment is greater than 90 days and you want even longer credit protection, you can also apply an active duty alert, according to the FTC. An active duty alert is an identity theft preventive measure specially offered to military members. The FTC noted that this type of alert is similar to a fraud alert, as creditors will have to work harder to grant credit. Compared to a regular fraud alert, an active duty alert has the advantage of lasting for one year. Afterward, military members can renew the active duty alert to last as long as they are deployed.
3. Institute a Credit Freeze
While a fraud alert requires creditors to confirm the identity of the person applying for credit, they can still access your credit. A hard inquiry – when someone pulls your credit report – may lower your credit score, and having several of these inquiries at once could further damage your credit standing. However, you have the option of a credit freeze, which stops creditors from accessing your credit report altogether unless they have your permission.
4. Look Over Your Credit Report Periodically
Although active duty military members will be busy during their service, it’s still important for them to inspect their credit report for any mistakes or errors. You can check your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies for
5. Ask Someone Trusted to Handle Your Mail
Whether you are overseas or located on a base away from home, it’s a challenge to get up to date with all your mail. With each piece of mail you receive, you are at risk for identity theft. Before deployment, make sure to provide mail access only to people you trust. Additionally, if the person entrusted with your mail comes by infrequently, consider placing a lock on your mailbox to stop strangers from stealing your mail.
6. Shred Documents with Sensitive Information
You likely receive documents in the mail that contain private information, such as a Social Security number or your date of birth. Other documents that are important to keep out of identity thieves’ hands include bank statements because they list your financial information. Rather than let mail pile up, shred these documents using a paper shredder, the VA’s Warren recommended.
7. Create Strong Passwords
Hackers often don’t have to rely only on data security breaches to obtain your confidential information. They may simply guess passwords after they get their hands on an email address. When surfing on the Web, especially when logging into sensitive websites, use passwords that are hard to guess.
Strong passwords typically are made up of a combination of special characters (such as ! and @), upper and lowercase letters and numbers.
The length of the password is also crucial. Choose a password that is at least eight characters long. To make your password even more impenetrable, develop a passphrase that will not only make this login credential longer, but also less likely that hackers will simply guess what it is.