Silent thieves -- even military need protection

  • Published
  • By Lee Anne Hensley
  • Hilltop Times Staff Writer
Last month, Heartland Payment Systems, a nationwide credit card transaction processor, and Monster Worldwide, an international job-search Web site holding millions of resumes, experienced breaches in their databases which compromised personal information on millions of clients. In some instances, the computer hackers furthered the damage by sending the victims e-mails with links to malicious software viruses intended to gather more financial information and some viruses that encrypt data on a PC and demand a ransom to decode the data, according to news reports.

With this recent surge in database security breaches by computer hackers, it is important to remain vigilant in protecting one's personal information and financial reputation, especially for military members.

Capt.Graham Bernstein, chief of Legal Assistance and Preventative Law at the Ogden Air Logistics Center Staff Judge Advocate, reports that his office deals with many cases of identity theft each year. "Given military members' unique lifestyle they are particularly vulnerable to internet crimes like identity theft," he said.

Mark Burton, 75th Force Support Squadron Airman and Family Readiness Center Personal Financial Readiness consultant, agrees with Bernstein. "Service members and their families are the most targeted group for scams surpassing that of senior citizens," he reports. Burton believes it is because the service members "still live with the mentality of providing name, rank and Social Security number."

Bernstein says there are several government resources that members can use, along with common sense, to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to identity theft.

Active duty alerts

For those who are deployed away from their usual duty station and who do not expect to seek new credit during the deployment, they can place an "active duty alert" on their credit report. An active duty alert requires creditors to take steps to verify the person's identity before granting credit in their name.

An active duty alert is effective for one year, unless requested for removal sooner. For deployments longer than a year, it is necessary to place another alert on the credit report after one year is up.

To place an active duty alert, or to have it removed, call the toll-free fraud number of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. The company you call is required to contact the other two.

The law also allows the military member to use a personal representative to place or remove an alert.

Deter identity theft

The following advice is given by the Federal Trade Commission to help safeguard your personal and financial information:

* Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.

* Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.

* Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.

* Safeguard your military ID. Keep it with you or locked up at all times.

* Never lend your credit cards or account information to anyone else.

* Do not click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; instead, type in a Web address you know. Use firewalls, antispyware, and antivirus software to protect your home computer, and keep them up to date. Visit for more information.

* Don't use an obvious password such as your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

* Keep your personal information in a secure place, especially if you live in barracks or with roommates.

* Don't let mail pile up unattended if you can't collect it. Use a mail stop or Post Office Box, or have someone you trust hold your mail while you are away.

Inspect and detect

Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements. The two main statements to monitor are your credit reports and bank statements. The FTC offers these monitoring tips:

* Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill-paying history. The law requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- to give you a free copy of your credit report every year if you ask for it.

Visit or call 1 (877) 322-8228, a service created by these three reporting companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

* Review financial accounts and read billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make. If you review financial accounts online from a public computer, be sure to log off of financial sites before you end your session.

The FTC also warns people to be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as: bills that do not arrive as expected; unexpected credit cards or account statements; denials of credit for no apparent reason; and calls or letters about purchases you did not make.

If you're a victim

Burton advises those who have been victimized by identity theft to contact the Federal Trade Commission online at or call them at 1 (877) ID-THEFT.

"This will get the ball rolling by helping law enforcement officials with their investigation," Burton said.

Burton says he is also available to help service members, civilians and their families who have been a victim of identity theft. "If you have been a victim, or feel that you may have been, please stop by the Airman and Family Readiness Center and ask for me, Mark Burton, or call me at 586-2694."

Bernstein also advises military members to file a claim with Military Sentinel, a project of the FTC and the Department of Defense that identifies and targets consumer protection issues affecting members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

"(Military Sentinel) acknowledges that identity theft of a military member is a national security risk and puts a special priority on investigating cases of identity theft in the military," Bernstein said.

To file a consumer complaint, log on to their Web site,, and click on the "File Complaint" link at the top of the page.

The FTC also provides the following advice for rectifying compromised financial matters:

* Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient: Equifax, 1 (800) 525-6285; Experian, 1 (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742); and TransUnion, 1 (800) 680-7289.

Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.

* Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents. Use the ID Theft Affidavit at to support your written statement.

* Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.

* Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.

* Explain the situation to your commanding officer. You don't want your C.O. taken by surprise if contacted by creditors looking to collect on charges made by the identity thief. You also may want a referral to a legal assistance office.

* File a report with military law enforcement and the local police (if you are in the United States). Their reports will help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.

Material from and the Standard-Examiner was used in this report.