When you receive orders to deploy, you need to be able to focus on the upcoming mission. To do this, you'll want to ensure your finances are in order and that you take measures to protect yourself from harmful financial situations like identity theft or fraud.
One easy step you can take to minimize your risk is to file an active duty alert or security freeze on your credit before you deploy. This ensures that businesses have to verify your identity before they issue credit in your name, which should help you avoid identity theft.
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It can wreak havoc on your finances and credit rating, and can cost a lot of time and money to fix. When you are called to active duty or deployed away from home, you may be at greater risk for identity theft; luckily, members of the military can take pre-emptive steps to protect themselves.
Active duty alert
When businesses see an active duty alert on your credit report, they must verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. This should prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name. It's similar to a security freeze, which is described below, but your active duty alert will automatically remain in place for one year - although you can request to have it removed sooner. If your deployment is longer than one year, you can place another active duty alert on your credit report if necessary. An active duty alert allows you to designate a personal representative, such as your spouse, partner or another trusted person, who can act on your behalf to verify your identity or remove your active duty alert if necessary. Placing an active duty alert on your credit also reduces the number of pre-approved credit card and insurance offers you receive for two years.
To place an active duty alert, complete the following steps:
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus-either Equifax, TransUnion or Experian and express your desire to place an active duty alert on your credit. The company you call must contact the others.
- Provide proof of identity, like a government-issued identity card, driver's license, military identification, birth certificate or passport.
To find the contact information for the credit reporting agencies, as well as more details about active duty alerts, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.
To protect yourself and your credit rating while you are deployed, you can also place a security freeze on your credit. A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with anyone, such as potential creditors or insurance companies, without your permission. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer's credit history first - so if you have a freeze on your account, this will keep any new accounts from being opened in your name.
If you freeze your credit, you'll have to set up the freeze separately with each of the three credit reporting companies - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. The cost to place and lift a freeze, and how long the freeze lasts depends on state law. Some states charge about $10 for a freeze; other states charge nothing.
To place a security freeze on your credit, complete the following steps:
- Contact your state attorney general's office to inquire about placing a freeze on your credit. Be sure to tell them you are a member of the military and ask how long the freeze lasts and how much it costs.
- Contact each of the three credit reporting agencies - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Ask them each to put a freeze on your credit.
A security freeze can be lifted temporarily when you are applying for credit, or you may remove it permanently at any time. To find the contact information for the credit reporting agencies, as well as more information about a security freeze on your credit, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.
Identity theft is a growing problem. In addition to requesting a security freeze or an active duty alert on your credit, get into the habit of shredding any paperwork with your private information on it. In addition, don't give out your account numbers or personal information over email. The Federal Trade Commission has additional suggestions for protecting yourself against identity theft.
Service members and their families can also get helpful credit information and free credit scores from the financial counselors at the Personal Financial Management Program. To find the nearest PFMP office, select "Personal Financial Management Services" on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. Financial counseling is also available through Military OneSource (800-342-9647) and the Joint Family Support Assistance Program.