Reflected eye of a service member in a tiny mirror as he puts on camo paint.

Keep a Sharp Eye Out for Identity Theft and Scams

Millions of people each year fall victim to identity theft or military scams of some kind. If you fall prey, it can cost you money, time and lots of stress. It happens when you let your guard down. Safeguard your Social Security number, military ID and other sensitive data. See how.

Nine ways to prevent identity theft

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 17.6 million Americans, including members of the military, were victims of identity theft in 2014 alone. It can take months, even years, to recover. The rigors of military life can amplify the problems caused by ID theft. Take these steps to guard against it:

  1. Check your credit. Federal law entitles you to a free credit report each year. Check it for suspicious activity. If you're a deploying service member and don't plan to seek new credit while deployed, place an active-duty alert on your credit report to reduce the risk of getting swindled.
  2. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware software on all your devices. Update these protections regularly.
  3. Shop online carefully. Only provide your credit card information on sites that use secure technology. Look for a lock icon on the status bar of your internet browser when shopping on a site.
  4. Don't give out personal information online or over the phone unless you initiated the contact.
  5. Keep your passwords private; change them regularly. Use strong passwords (a mix of numbers, letters and symbols works best) on your laptop, other devices, and banking and credit card accounts.
  6. Be careful on social media. Don’t overshare as thieves can get hints to answer security questions on your accounts. Don’t post your full name, address, phone number or any account numbers on social media or over publicly accessible sites or public Wi-Fi networks.
  7. Don't open phishing emails. They can be hard to spot. Be vigilant. Opening a file from someone you don't know can launch a virus on your computer that can capture personal information.
  8. Keep your wallet, military ID or purse secure. Never leave them in the car. Keep your wallet or purse in a locked drawer or other safe place at work.
  9. Destroy certain identifying information. Delete personal information from computers, cell phones and other devices when you get rid of them. Check the owner’s manual or contact your service provider to find out how. Also, shred receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, military records and other identifying documents before discarding them.

If you do fall victim to identity theft, call your local police and take these steps suggested by the Federal Trade Commission. Also, visit the commission’s identity theft site for more information. Tip: Alert your commanding officer to avoid potential hassles down the road. Consider contacting your legal assistance office or your Family Center to contact a personal financial counselor who may be able to help you.

Tips to avoid disaster and other scams

You’re most likely to get scammed when you’re most vulnerable or least expecting it. Scammers know this. That’s why some of the most common rip-offs involve: home repair and other frauds after a natural disaster, foreclosure rescue scams, pension and charity scams. Learn how to protect yourself from:

  • Con artists who prey on disaster victims. Common scams include those involving home repair frauds, fake government representatives and fake charities. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has tips for how to protect yourself.
  • Foreclosure rescue scams. Having a hard time making your mortgage payments or facing foreclosure? You have options to save your home. But beware of scammers who guarantee to stop your foreclosure (no one can promise that) or tell you not contact your lender, your lawyer or your credit housing counselor (they all can be helpful). See how to sniff out such scams at fdic.gov.
  • Sham charity operators and dishonest pension advisors. Service members, veterans and their families are targets for crooked charity operators and dishonest advisers who claim to offer free help with paperwork for pensions, including some attorneys and financial planners. Check out STOPFRAUD.gov for more information.

Understanding what steps to take to get ahead of fraudsters helps to reduce your chances of getting scammed or your identity stolen. Contact Military OneSource to connect to a personal financial counselor at your installation.