Starting in November of 1935 as part of the New Deal Social Security program, citizens of the United States were issued what the Social Security Administration called Social Security Numbers. Familiar to us all today, these numbers were and still are used for income tracking and taxation purposes, and are the most sensitive piece of personal information anyone can have.
In the past decade, however, with the rise of the internet as the predominant networking and business platform, social security numbers are being lifted from websites and emails by hackers and used maliciously, most often to start and subsequently max out lines of credit, along with other similar financial crimes.
Ordinary consumers have learned to take precautions when browsing the web, and to go to great lengths to protect their identity, but it has recently come to light that members of the military — the same people who serve and protect us at home and overseas — are at a much greater risk for being the victims of identity fraud.
The military relies heavily on the use of social security numbers to identify soldiers and administer their orders. In fact, a soldier’s social security number has (in the past) been posted in public view, on ID cards, bunk bed assignments, laundry bags, and other kinds of personal property.
And soldiers who are overseas are even more vulnerable, as they don’t have regular access to their citizen accounts and have their highly sensitive information visible to the public.
One soldier, David Hernandez, was the victim of egregious fraud while he was stationed in Japan. After his service term was over and he returned home, Hernandez received a billing notice for the repayment of a loan that he did not take out. Furthermore, there were several outstanding arrest warrants in his name, as well as credit charges, medical bills, and other fraudulent accounts all opened in his name using his social security number. Hernandez even owed back child support for children that were not his.
Another serviceman, Marine Cpl. Jacob Dissmore, returned home from Iraq to find that his information had been used to open credit card accounts, start a business, and even buy a home while he was deployed.
For members of the military, especially those that are deployed or are about to be deployed, it is crucial that more strict precautionary measures are taken to protect personal information, so that they aren’t victims of fraud while they are away.
Soldiers who are deployed and have had their identities stolen, and even soldiers who haven’t had their identities stolen, should follow these steps to reclaim and protect their information:
- Enroll in an online banking program. Online banks provide access to account information from anywhere in the world, giving deployed soldiers the opportunity to monitor activity frequently, even while away. And once enrolled, accounts need to be monitored weekly or monthly, either by a relative or by the soldier herself. This will help reduce further damage and prevent more fraud.
- Place an active duty alert on your credit report and inform your banks of your deployment date and term. An active duty alert will let creditors know that you are serving overseas and that you are unlikely to be applying for loans or credits cards. Three bureaus keep a close watch on your credit activity, and will be able to note suspicious activity if you are serving overseas. If you have already been the victim of fraud, contact the credit bureaus immediately and tell them you are serving. All it takes to activate an active duty alert is a letter to each of the three credit bureaus with copies of your driver’s license, Social Security card, military ID, orders of deployment, and proof of your home address. In the letter state that you would like to activate an active duty fraud alert on your credit report.
- Grant a close friend or family member power of attorney to handle your financial affairs. This can be a great solution because it relieves active duty military members of the burden of monitoring their finances, but can also be risky because the entire responsibility is placed on someone else, so that person must be absolutely trustworthy.
- Sign up for identity theft protection. Almost every major bank offers identity theft protection now, and there are even third party businesses that you can pay to monitor your credit and finances for suspicious activity.
- Hold or forward your mail, so that it isn’t intercepted. A common problem for military men and women serving abroad is that their mail is scattered and lost in delivery, or intercepted by thieves and used to commit fraud. Have all of your mail held or forwarded to the same place, and eliminate the risk.
Identity fraud is a serious offense, and it is a sad reality that military members are the most vulnerable to attacks. But with a little effort, you can help to protect your information and reduce the odds of being a victim.
This is a guest post from Jacelyn Thomas. Jacelyn writes about identity theft prevention for IdentityTheft.net. She can be reached at: jacelyn.thomas @ gmail.com.