The holiday stand-down period is a welcome respite for Sailors to get away from the stress of deployments, duty sections, and qualifications. But while many are taking a much needed rest and relaxation from protecting their nation, they themselves remain vulnerable to the ever-present risk of identity theft. Here are some tips to prevent a Grinch from ruining your Christmas.
Know Your Risk
Sailors are at a significantly higher risk of having their identities stolen as compared to their civilian counterparts. The Federal Trade Commission reports that servicemembers are nearly three times more likely to have money directly taken from their bank account by another person using electronic means. Additionally, they are 76% more likely to report that an existing account was fraudulently misused and 22% more likely to report that their stolen information was used to open a new account such as a credit card. This data suggests that your service affiliation alone places you at a higher risk of identity theft, and you should be ever vigilant of monitoring your credit to quickly identify when identity theft does happen. Even more troubling, servicemembers are twice as likely to report that a family member or someone they know stole their identity. You may not want to ask Uncle Ernie to pass the latkes this Hanukkah knowing his new OLED television was purchased using your credit card.
Protect Yourself Now
When it comes to preventing identity theft, the best offense is a good defense and Sailors should be proactive to ensure they have not had their identity stolen. With the increased vulnerability towards having funds taken directly from their bank accounts, Sailors should check their bank accounts and online credit card statements daily to ensure no unauthorized transactions have been made. To keep track of your credit history, and to see if a Grinch has applied for credit in your name, Sailors should sign up for free credit monitoring available to all active-duty military members through the Equifax, Transunion, and Experian websites. If you do not intend on applying for credit anytime soon, you may want to consider placing a freeze on your credit which prevents scammers from accessing your sensitive data which is needed to approve the application. If you are doing a credit freeze, make sure you freeze your credit through all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Transunion, and Experian, as access to one bureau will still allow a scammer to open credit in your name.
Act Quickly to Mitigate Damage
While taking preventative measures can stop most scammers, the means of stealing a person’s identity is constantly evolving. Because of this, Sailors remain always vulnerable to fraud. When identity theft does occur, Sailors should take swift action to protect themselves and their credit history. If a Sailor notices unauthorized transactions on a credit or debit card, they should immediately contact their banking institution to place a lock on their card and to report the transactions as fraudulent. Many banking institutions reimburse members for unauthorized purchases, and Sailors should choose a bank that guarantees this benefit. If they notice credit has been opened in their name, they should alert the creditor of the fraud. Regardless of the means, Sailors should report that their identity has been stolen on identitytheft.gov which will then provide them with a recovery plan tailored to their unique situation. Sailors should additionally alert one of the three credit bureaus, who will place a fraud alert on their file and inform the other two bureaus of a fraud alert, as well. By understanding their vulnerability, utilizing preventative measures, and acting quickly to minimize the ill effects of identity theft, Sailors can ensure their holiday season is still the most wonderful time of the year.