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Q: I’ve heard more and more in the news about identity theft. What are steps I can take to protect myself, and what should I do if I believe I am the victim of identity theft?
A: Identity theft costs victims time and money, and can destroy their credit and reputation. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that as many as eight million people a year discover that they have been victims of identity theft.
There are a number of ways to protect yourself from identity theft. These include shredding financial documents, protecting your Social Security number and other personal information, and avoiding the use of obvious passwords.
If you are a service member about to deploy, and do not intend to seek new credit while deployed, you can place an “Active Duty Alert” on your credit report. This alert will be effective for one year, unless you request that it be removed earlier, and will require creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. To put that alert in effect, call one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. The company you notify is required to notify the others.
It is also important to regularly inspect your credit report. Federal law requires each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies to provide you with one free copy of your credit report each year, upon request. You may make such a request by visiting one of the company’s websites, or by writing to the Annual Credit Report Request Service at P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA, 30348. To best monitor your credit, it may be wise to request a report from one of the three agencies every four months.
If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports by notifying the three major consumer reporting agencies, and disputing any inaccurate information. You should also close any accounts that have been tampered with, file a police report, and report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Further, if you are a service member, consider notifying your commanding officer. In all services of the military, commanders may take administrative or disciplinary action against service members who fail to meet their financial obligations in a proper and timely manner. Notifying your commander that your identity has been forged will prevent any surprise should he or she learn about bad checks written in your name or creditors looking to collect from you on charges made by the identity thief.
This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.