May is the season for spring flowers, graduations, and honoring those who serve our nation. As Military Appreciation Month, it embraces many things. It’s a time to remember the end of World War II and honor military families for their sacrifices. It culminates with the observation of Memorial Day to pay homage to those who died in service to our country.
At ID Watchdog, this month is a time to salute our troops and provide tips on how to help better protect themselves against identity theft.
Higher Risks for Military Members
Military members may face additional risks for identity-based crimes. Their service and periodic change of duty stations are often at the core of this issue. Moving frequently is a contributing factor that can interfere with mail delivery. If a forwarding address expires, that mail might be sent back to a former home. Then, an experienced thief could use the wayward bill to open other utility accounts or transfer the service to a “new” address. Credit card renewals sent via US mail are also targets for thieves.
In 2015, hackers stole the personal information of millions of soldiers and other federal workers from The Office of Personnel Management. The data included financial and criminal histories, Social Security numbers, and even the information of immediate family members. This crime can influence the risk of identity theft for both active and inactive duty personnel for years to come.
The annual Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) of law enforcement agencies and non-profit groups collects reports from civilians and members of the military affected by identity theft. The two categories are tallied separately, revealing a pattern of higher theft rates for men and women who serve. CSN received roughly 2.8 million complaints in 2017 that were separated into three categories: fraud, identity theft, and “other.” For civilians, the rate of reported identity theft was 13.87 percent. Individuals in the military reported a rate of 26.57 percent—nearly double the tally for non-military victims.
While the #1 category for complaints in both groups was credit card fraud, bank fraud ranks second among military victims. Fraudulent applications for government benefits or documents also ranked higher for military members than for civilians.
Self Help Starts Today
Military members, you can take steps to help better protect your identity:
- Be vigilant about what you throw away during a move. Get a paper shredder to destroy sensitive documents.
- Place an active duty alert on your credit bureau files with the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax®,TransUnion®, Experian®) to alert potential credit issuers to your status. Renew it every 12 months so lenders take extra steps to confirm your identity before extending new credit in your name.
- Consider having sensitive mail delivered to a permanent address in the US that a relative or friend could monitor.
- Consider signing up for Informed Delivery from the US Postal Service to get previews of the mail that’s en route so you are aware if sensitive documents wind up missing.